Thursday, 15 November 2018

The Cyclops (1957)

This was director Bert I. Gordon's third movie in what would become a long line of (50's) classic sci-fi/giant creature movies. Almost any movie Gordon directed could easily fall into a top ten of 50's schlock B-movie sci-fi epics. Epics such as 'King Dinosaur', 'Earth vs. The Spider', 'Attack of the Puppet People', and 60's legend 'The Magic Sword'.

But like some of Gordon's other movies (and many other movies of the time) the basic story here is all too familiar. Essentially a team of experts travel to a remote part of the world only to discover giant creatures living there, and that's it. And yes once again the reason for these giant abnormalities is a dose of good old-fashioned 50's radiation. The only real differences here from other similar themed movies are, the team of experts is searching for a missing person and the remote location is in Mexico; not the usual distant undiscovered island. Alas everything else we see here is by the books and highly formulaic. 

The lead scientist Russ Bradford (James Craig) is a well built, well rounded, good looking chap with a stylish Flynn-esque moustache. The second expert Marty Melville (Lon Chaney Jr.) is the more trigger happy unpredictable character who gets upset and flustered quickly putting the others at risk. Pilot Lee Brand (Tom Drake) is the in-between character so to speak, he is sensible and well rounded but also easily led astray. And naturally you can't have a movie like this without an attractive female character to put in peril and so you have Susan Winter (Gloria Talbot), the woman who has organised the search and rescue mission.

The giant creatures discovered are all regular creatures such as lizards, birds, bugs, and some small mammals. All of which consisted of the usual stock footage which had been crudely projected against live action footage of the actors. Twas the standard effect for movies like this at the time but here it looks especially poor, mainly down to a lack of budget and time restrictions. What's amusing is the fact that the animal footage is clearly completely different location wise to the live action location footage with the actors. In some scenes the actors were obviously in some botanical garden area somewhere (in Hollywood probably) whilst in others its clearly a set.

On top of that the actors really don't seem to be reacting to the giant threats all that much. Clearly they had no real idea how to react and where to look, plus their lack of amazement at the discovery of giant creatures is somewhat of an eyeopener frankly. Most people would be understandably shocked and amazed by finding giant animals alive and well roaming around Mexico. Not these experts, it's just an inconvenience for them. Also, did they actually show footage of a small rodent actually being killed by a bird of prey??

The location for all these giant radioactive animals also raised some questions. Supposedly these creatures dwell in the jungles of Mexico, but initially the search and rescue mission was clearly flying over a mountainous desert region of Mexico. And when the team land they are still in a mountainous desert region. Now I'm no expert on Mexico but the northern part is more desert and the southern part is more green I believe, so where exactly where the team supposed to be? And not one person had ever reported these giant creatures? Not even the giant human cyclops?

Ah yes the giant human cyclops, the titular character. Now this character turns out to be the missing person but, like the animals, has mutated due to the radioactivity in the area. Not sure why he has become a disfigured one-eyed mutant seeing as all the other creatures just got bigger but whatever. Also not sure why this person didn't manage to leave the region in search of help before he mutated into a cyclops but again whatever. The makeup for this giant mutant was actually well done (for the time) and pretty disturbing. His huge bulging non-blinking eye, bald head, and nasty disfigured mouth with protruding teeth were probably quite terrifying for folks back in the 50's. Sure he does literally nothing other than lurch around and growl (why is he unable to talk?) but kudos on that makeup job.

In the end it's actually pretty typical and amusing that the team of experts manages to find this missing guy...but end up killing him. Yup, they go through all that and just end up blinding him before killing him...somehow. Before the credits role we see the cyclops lying dead (in a horrendous projection shot) but I'm not really sure how. They don't try to help this guy, they don't seem to care about the giant animals, and they don't seem overly bothered about the large deposits of radium in the area that caused all this. They just kill the cyclops and fly away to safety in a happy ending. Maybe they looked further into these things when they got back to the good old US of A.

So in the end I can't really recommend this Gordon directed feature I'm afraid. I wasn't expecting anything groundbreaking here, I knew exactly what I was gonna get, but it's just not on the same level of enjoyment as other similar themed movies. Dare I say its actually just a poor movie? Everything about this was just badly done, seemingly lacking any sort of real passion. Not even Chaney's stupidly rash character could elevate this much. I found myself somewhat bored to be honest although I do appreciate how this early project was a building block for Gordon and later (better) features.


Sunday, 11 November 2018

Kickboxer: Retaliation (2018)

The seventh movie in the Kickboxer franchise, holy crap. And lets be honest with ourselves, the first was the best and didn't need expanding further, but here we are. This movie is a direct sequel to the last entry 'Kickboxer: Vengeance' which was itself pretty dire.

The Plot: Tong Po is dead, Eric Sloane was avenged, and Kurt (Alain Moussi) is now a professional mixed martial artist. After a fight Kurt is basically kidnapped and awakens to find himself back in sticky Thailand in prison. It seems he has been brought back to Thailand for the death of Tong Po. It also seems Thomas Tang Moore (Christopher Lambert), the man who controls the underground fighting competition where Kurt defeated Tong Po, wants Kurt to fight his new champion (the man who replaced the now dead Tong Po). Moore offers Kurt various deals to get him out of prison and fight but naturally Kurt refuses because he's an idiot. This of course leads to Moore kidnapping Kurt's wife along with other forms of intimidation yadda yadda yadda and Kurt agrees to fight. I think you know how this goes from here on.

Right so first off the baddie character of Moore has bribed the Thai police (and some US Marshal?) into dragging Kurt all the way back to Thailand and slinging him in prison. All this without any form of official intervention from anyone in America or Thailand?? I mean I'm sure Moore is wealthy and could bribe some Thai cops and bigwigs but somehow I doubt he could bribe that many people across two countries in order to extradite Sloane with no questions asked. The fact that Kurt is tasered in the US and only wakes up back in Thailand is just beyond ridiculous.

Whilst Sloane is in prison (held by Moore's bribes it seems) Moore actually offers him 1 million Dollars to fight his new champion! Aaand of course Kurt declines this rather excellent offer, because of course he does. Predictable cliche one, whilst in prison all the other inmates wanna fight Kurt. Of course Kurt defeats them all easily because all these guys are your typical undernourished looking Thai males. Predictable cliche two, whilst in prison Kurt makes friends with other inmates who just happen to be really good fighters (and they're cameos). This includes Mike Tyson, various real MMA fighters, and...footballer Ronaldinho?

Predictable cliche three, whilst in prison Kurt also stumbles across Master Durand (JCVD) again, because of course he does. It seems Master Durand is now training prisoners for some reason. Not sure why he would be allowed to do this but whatever. So of course he decides to help Kurt once again. One problem, he's now blind due to Moore's treatment. Luckily that's really convenient for all that Jedi-esque type fighting where you rely on your senses and spiritual side etc...

Predictable clic...oh for Gods sake there are just loads in here. Kurt's new inmate buddies help him train for the big fight once he agrees to it. So Tyson teaches him boxing, the other MMA fighters teach him...umm...more MMA. And Ronaldinho teaches him...dodging? By kicking footballs at him?? What??? What I don't get is Kurt is supposed to be this ultimate MMA fighter who already proved his worth and skills by killing Tong Po. So why does he need training from these bums in a Thai prison??

After all the obligatory prison set guff and a complete rip-off of the famous Bruce Lee 'Enter the Dragon' mirror sequence; we eventually get to the big showdown between Kurt and the new champion who is basically some massively overweight white guy. Sure he's big and wide, but he's also fat. The difference in this movie is that Moore and his scientists have been experimenting on the new champion with a combination of steroids and adrenaline making him ├╝ber strong. So now not only does this final showdown look like a scene from a Mortal Kombat movie complete with Lambert sitting on a throne in a dingy torch lit dungeon setting. The big villain Kurt must fight is some gigantic roided up monster who literally roars all the time.

This is the main problem with this movie, the big finale is essentially a remake of the classic finale from the first classic movie. Its not a scene for scene remake but they have clearly copied it visually with all the usual beats. But again there is one main difference with this movie, and again its not good. In this movie the bad guy does actually kill Sloane in the finale. Yes you read that right, Kurt Sloane is actually killed in the finale. But fret not because Kurt's kidnapped wife manages to bring him back from the dead with one of the adrenaline/steroid concoctions used by the baddies (despite her not being a doctor, but I guess he was dead so...what the hell). Kurt comes around, shakes off the fact he had just expired for around 10 minutes and goes on to win the fight. Merica!

So basically what I'm saying here is, this movie offers nothing new whatsoever. Its exactly the same spiel as almost everything else that has come before it and is literally a complete waste of time and money. This is the seventh movie in the franchise, what is the bloody point in redoing the same final showdown from the first movie??? The plot is so fecking mundane and basic, so many tropes Jesus! Van Damme wasn't required, he was more of a token to lure in fans as was Lambert. And not only that the fighting wasn't even that good! Yeah sure if you're into MMA then you may get a kick out of this (no pun intended) but in all honesty watching a real MMA fight would probably be better.

I think the issue here is thus. Back in the day with the original you had a young, somewhat mysterious, up and coming martial artist from Europe with a curious accent. You had Jean Claude Van Damme in his glistening prime. The genre was ripe for the era and Van Damme (along with other classic action stars) was simply at the right place in the right time. Those early flicks were just lighting in a bottle and I don't think you can recapture it. Plus these days there are so many martial artists/musclemen with rippling physiques, there's nothing special about it anymore.


Tuesday, 6 November 2018

The Meg (2018)

Amazingly this movie is an adaptation of a series of books! Yep, we could actually get sequels to this, hmmm.

The Plot: A team of very clever people financed by a millionaire are all exploring the depths of the Marianas Trench. They believe at the bottom of the trench there is a thick layer or (thermocline) cloud of Hydrogen Sulfide which is hiding an even deeper section of the trench. Of course they are correct and discover another deeper world. Shock horror this new world is the habitat of a huge Megalodon. By accident (a hole is punched through the thermocline cloud) the Meg gets loose from its hidden world and is now free to eat (or swallow) its way through the South China Sea.

Yes that's right, I did say the South China Sea. Did you know this was apparently a movie specifically aimed at the Chinese market? Nope neither did I. Well I say that but the story is set around the Marianas Trench in the western part of the Pacific Ocean and Hainan Island of the coast of China, so I guess that covers it. But its a hell of a coincidence that this movie just happens to be somewhat aimed at one of the biggest and most important movie markets of the time (cynical much?).

The Team: OK well we've got a sexy blonde, a fat white guy, a nerdy looking Chinese guy, an attractive Chinese lady, a middle-aged Chinese scientist bloke, token black guy, the somewhat annoying and heartless white guy millionaire, a sexy inked up white goth-esque chick, a middle-aged white guy scientist, and a middle-aged New Zealander scientist bloke. Diversity box well and truly ticked.

This movie is pure cheese, that should not be of any surprise. The movie confirms this for you straight away with Jonas' (Jason Statham) backstory. Jonas was part of a top deep sea rescue team. On his last mission things didn't go as planned and he ended up leaving some men behind in a sunk submarine (they died). Since then he's been a drunk layabout in Thailand feeling sorry for himself. He is asked to help the rescue mission at the Trench where a few of the team are stranded at the base (large prehistoric shark attack). At first he declines basically stating that his war is over, but is eventually talked into it. Yep this is basically the Rambo III of the sea.

So the Meg/s live down in the Trench in this hidden realm that is home to prehistoric creatures (remember, sequel). Apparently one reason they can't leave this zone is because of water temperature, the ocean is too cold for them. Down is their habitat it's warmer presumably its closer to the Earth's centre? Anyway this is why the shark swims near the surface all the time, it's warmer. But the other reason was this thermocline cloud of Hydrogen Sulfide. Now a touch of homework will tell you this chemical isn't good but would a cloud layer of this be able to stop a creature as large as a Megalodon?

The first issue we witness surrounds the first teams venture down into this new zone in the trench where they are attacked by the Meg. Of course they get stranded down there hence the need for Jonas to be called in. But in order to get Jonas they had to fly to Thailand to meet him. But the team stuck at the bottom of the trench had around 16 hours of oxygen left I think it was. So would that be enough time to fly all the way to Thailand, find Jonas, convince him, fly back, get to the bottom of the trench and then rescue them??

Its also during this movie when I had to ask myself, is this shark really this stupid? At one point it tries to swallow an entire plastic and metal cage. Now I realise sharks might not be that clever and I realise a shark this big would need lots of food to keep going. But surely any creature would understand there's no point in eating/swallowing something that is clearly not edible (not biteable or chewable) and doesn't even fit in its mouth! It's a bloody shark not a snake. I might also add that the shark doesn't even really eat people here, it merely swallows them. The sharks mouth is so big compared to a human there's nothing for it to chew, which kinda takes the horror out of it for me.

Did...did we actually have a chase sequence in this movie?? We did, we actually did! Statham is inside a small submarine and is being chased by the Meg. In order to try and escape he's piloting this small submersible through all these little holes, cracks, and caves on the ocean floor whilst the shark chases him smashing through it. It was like something outta Star Wars. Would a shark be that bothered to eat this thing? Surely it can find easier prey? Isn't it hurting itself?

Oh we had a topless scene for Statham, just thought I'd point that out. Yep he's getting out of the shower, all wet and glistening, someone knocks on his cabin door, its the attractive Chinese lady and she falls for him instantly. Awkward, embarrassingly hammy, cringeworthy...yeah this scene had it all. Also the inked up rock chick (Ruby Rose), what was with her hair? Was like permanently soaked in gel. And her face was always covered in obvious thick layers of makeup and fake tan, always looked perfect even after getting out of the water. Really movie? Really?

K so this movie is obviously popcorn trash that does exactly what it says on the tin. Everyone knows what they're getting with this so there should be no complaints right? Well no. Despite that this movie is bad, real bad, and its a huge anti-climax. There is virtually no gore or shocks which surprised me. The effects are pretty lame for a modern blockbuster. Why did I not see that shark leap out of the water and take down one of those helicopters??!! Why movie?? It was right there, you had it. It would have been silly but with a flick like this I don't think that's anything to worry about. I mean I kinda respect director Jon Turteltaub for not going down that specific (B-movie) route but damn, that money shot went begging.

Alas this let me down. A third-rate, sanitised copy of 'Jaws' essentially. 'smile you son of a bitch' now becomes 'chew on this you ugly bastard'. Bottom line, this is the quintessential example of a movies poster being infinitely more awesome and captivating than the actual movie.