Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Johnny English Strikes Again (2018)

Well here we go again with yet another James Bond parody. Because we haven't got enough of those! But in all seriousness I really find it incredible that they are still able to churn movies like this out, surely they're all the same now??

So in this third outing Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) has retired from the spy game. He is now a Geography teacher in the county of Lincolnshire in the north of England. But wait! Shock horror! Some crafty baddies are hacking into MI7 exposing all their agents! So with all their top personnel comprised MI7 must fall back on their older agents...and cue Johnny English. Along with his trusty sidekick Bough (Ben Miller), English must now travel to beautiful locations on the continent to track down the source of the cyber hack (one tech baddie and a bunch of butch model-esque henchmen in tight fitting attire).

I think the best aspect of this movie is what we are introduced to right at the start when English and Bough are taken down to the stereotypical MI7 weapons area (with the inevitable, but younger, Q-type character). In an interesting and highly amusing twist the weapons division of MI7 is now a very politically correct area overloaded with typically British health and safety regulations (and boy do we British love our health and safety regulations). 

Before English can lay a finger on anything he must fill out all the correct health and safety paperwork making sure all the correct procedures are adhered to. Not only that, MI7 no longer provide their agents with guns or any deadly gadgets. They are now provided with the latest smartphone complete with all the latest apps (ugh!!!). What makes it worse is the smug young, Q-type, tech guy who dishes all this bureaucratic crap out to English. A typical uni student type. This one scene is by far the funniest and most relatable to our modern politically correct nanny state society. We do get hints of this bureaucracy later on in the movie but alas not enough.

As for the rest of the film well its as you might expect really. The story takes place in the south of France so naturally every scene looks like a vivid beautiful picture fit for a Thomas Cook brochure. This also means the picture quality in 1080p is as crisp as fuck (if you're into that), but again what else would you expect? Nevertheless I can't help but succumb to my cynical side and think that all this was merely a lovely free holiday for cast and crew. I mean why does it need to be set in the south of France? Why not somewhere a bit more ominous to ramp up the tension? I mean seriously how about some originality.

Of course not only do we get the stereotypical lavish locales but we also get the stereotypical lavish everything else. What do I mean? Well English chooses to drive an Aston Martin V8 Vantage, because of course. Admittedly there is a cute scene where he has to choose from a large garage of electric hybrid cars (another well-placed jab at modern society), but naturally the garage also just happens to have this one lone supercar ready to rock (groan!). I think having English in a hybrid would have resulted in more laughs myself.

But along with the supercar there are the lavish restaurant locales, a lavish yacht, a lavish Scottish castle, lavish attire for everyone, lavish food and drink etc...Literally everything in this movie is sumptuous and rich. Yes its all part of the plot but it all just feels so dated, so out of touch, and so vomit-inducing frankly. Everything is perfect and shiny it just comes across as...boring I guess. It's hard to explain really.

Yet on the flip side of all the lavish richness on display, there is a crap-tonne of bad effects and obvious greenscreen usage. For every lovely location shot there is a terrible CGI effect or obvious greenscreen sequence. Why would you spend money on shooting in these places if you're just gonna greenscreen much of it? There are some nice gadgets and sets granted but again don't go expecting anything unique here, this is literally all the usual Bond guff all over again.

I can't even praise the comedy or action really. It's all very light-hearted and nothing you're gonna remember the next day. I mean what really stood out here? The inflatable raft getting accidentally inflated inside English's car. The silly gadgets that look like everyday objects. English trying to exit a scene in an ice cool manner by leaping over the side of the lavish yacht only to land on a lower deck. English performs the old 'Mr. Bean eyes' sight gag. The usual pratfall antics in various scenes such as a restaurant. A bomb going off causing English to lose his hearing briefly. It might make you titter a bit but its all pretty basic stuff. They even stole an idea from the original 'Naked Gun' movie.

I guess the one thing about this movie (and franchise) that I don't like is the lack of consequence. This isn't an outright spoof, its an action comedy, but there are no consequences for anything. Yes I understand its a silly comedy at heart but it would work so much better if there were some genuine thrills, tension, or consequences. Shit just happens in one scene and is forgotten in the next, its essentially a cartoon. One sight gag after another. 

A good example of how inconsequential and stupid some scenes in this movie can be is right at the end. English has saved the day and is being congratulated back at his school. Before the small ceremony he goes up to his classroom to show his young students all the highly dangerous gadgets he used on his mission. He gets them out and hands them to the students. The students naturally being curious play with the gadgets and almost set some off which causes English to quickly gather them back up. Then the Headmaster comes in and picks up the exploding Jellybabies to eat one.

But what was the point of all that?? Why would he go out of his way to show his young students the extremely dangerous gadgets knowing they would probably play with and trigger them! He gets them all out then has to put them all away again instantly before the kids kill each other. Huh?? Like why?? This wasn't even funny it was just stupid. And then of course there was the cliffhanger, did the Headmaster blow his own head off eating an exploding Jellybaby? 

The disappointing thing with this (and I've said this for all three movies) is the original adverts this franchise was based on were so much better, mainly because they were only a few minutes long. This amusing in tiny doses but overall a very dated and unoriginal affair.


Friday, 25 January 2019

My Stepmother Is an Alien (1988)

Hello what have we here? A lost gem from deep within the archives of Dan Aykroyd's filmography? Nah.

Apparently the early drafts for this story were supposed to be based around...child abuse? Clearly a serious matter. Yet, apparently, the bigwigs at Paramount thought the idea might work better as...a comedy?? Anyway long story short the idea never came to fruition until many years later with a fresh rewrite and director. Somehow after all that we got this wacky sci-fi comedy which has to be based on those old 50's sci-fi B-movies surely...?

Its the basic old fashioned science fiction spiel. The somewhat eccentric scientist Steven Mills (Dan Aykroyd) accidentally sends a radio signal beyond our galaxy, into the next, which strikes an alien planet causing disruption to their gravity (we don't see any of this naturally). So these aliens send one of their own to Earth in order to find out who did it, how, and why. The spaceship lands on the beach in plain view of an urban area but no one sees or hears a thing. Did I forget to mention that this alien (called Celeste) is Kim Basinger? Well there you go, and naturally Mills falls in love with her.

Yes its the old notion of an alien race coming to Earth and just happen to end up looking like a stunning blonde Earth woman. At first I thought the human appearance was a cover for their true alien features, but no! Apparently all the women on this far off alien world look like supermodels, because of course they do. Oh and just to make matters even cornier, these super hot sex bombs don't know what kissing is and gave up sexual intercourse many many decades ago (because they found it pointless and icky...don't question it) and have forgotten what its like. So it looks like Steve is in for a treat right here folks!

The odd thing is, apparently the males of this alien world are all white middle-aged men in what looks like nuns attire? So are all the males like this or are the ones we see the elders? I only ask because we are told that all the women look like sex bombs, so...Also the fact that these aliens from a galaxy far far away look identical to humans and...ah who cares.

So these aliens are basically identical to humans in the looks department, but they have superpowers it would seem. Again the rules to this movies universe are somewhat all over the place but from what I can tell these aliens can do pretty much anything. They have super strength. They can resist extremely high temperatures. They can make objects fly and hover. They can make solid objects pass through other solid objects. Oh and they drink, or live off, battery fluid. So what the hell are these things?? What kind of organic creature would live off battery fluid??

Then there's the little snake-like alien with a single eyeball that lives in Celeste's special handbag. What is that supposed to be?? Another alien lifeform? Something the humanoid aliens created? What??!! It also has tonnes of magical superpowers. This snake is also able to project large holograms of information for Celeste at any given moment. Not sure if only the aliens could see these though, I'm guessing so cos the humans never react to them.

Now I'm a big big fan of Dan Aykroyd, I think he's a comic genius and has been involved with multiple classics both large and small. But alas here he falters. I can see exactly what he's trying to do throughout this movie, but he fails. His genuine wacky charms, fat physical comedy, facial expressions, and endearing technical jargon which he often delivers at breakneck speed, are all present here, but it just feels lacking. He's clearly trying to capture that Ray Stantz magic for this story but it falls flat amongst the cheap effects, bad sets, and weak costars.

This movie came along one year before Tim Burton's Batman so Kim Basinger was still technically small fry. She was mainly known for her steamy antics with Mickey Rourke in '9½ Weeks' so this goofball family comedy seemed like an odd choice. Who else would you cast as a super sexy blonde bombshell at this point? So Basinger naturally fits the part of the sexy alien, but anything else? Not really no. I have always thought Basinger was all looks and not much else (even in Batman 89) and this doesn't sway me. She really cannot act at all. She has no comic timing, looks uncomfortable in many scenes, and isn't funny. Unsurprisingly the only scene where she does come to life is where she has to strip for Aykroyd's character. It's plainly obvious they stuck that sequence in because that's all she could do and what she was known for.

As for the rest. Well there's classic actor Joseph Maher. A young and thinish looking Jon Lovitz. The voice of Harry Shearer as Carl Sagan. And the very young trio of Alyson Hannigan, a seriously young Seth Green, and a blink and you'll miss it cameo from a teen Juliette Lewis.

So in the end Steve manages to send another radio signal to Celeste's planet and stop the gravity issue from destroying it. Hurrah! But wait! The snake thing in Celeste's handbag has orders to wipe out the planet because they thought the humans did it on purpose. Funny how they don't try and communicate with any high ranking humans to talk about this, considering they're intelligent beings and all. Nope they just decide to blow up the Earth. Luckily this plot is foiled and the middle-aged male aliens decide not to blow up the Earth after Celeste shows them how great it is (and the sex and sneezing, yes sneezing).

Instead they allow the pervy character played by Lovitz (who basically plays the same character he's always played) to go back to their alien homeworld so he can teach them all about humans, Earth, and how they have sex...lots of sex. You know cos all the women look like supermodels...remember that? Yep hilarious.

So in the end I really can't recommend this. I hadn't seen this since I was a mere sprog and couldn't remember a thing. Clearly I had high hopes for this being a wacky sci-fi starring Dan Aykroyd but alas no. The whole thing looks cheap as chips. The sets are poor and the effects are terrible with hideous bluescreen. The acting is dire as is the humour and bottom line the story is just utter nonsense. Yes its a nutty comedy but you gotta have some ground rules. Disapointing ain't the word!


Monday, 21 January 2019

Tag (2018)

Believe it or not but this movie is actually based on a true story about a group of adult men that actually play tag for an entire month each year. This story came to light via an article in the Wall Street Journal. I don't think any of the movies characters were actually based on this group of gentlemen, but their actions do seem to be, albeit over the top.

Long story short, if you can call this a long story. Five chaps have been playing tag since they were kids. During the month of May its open season for the man who's 'it' to try and tag another and so on. Last man 'it' at the end of the month remains so until the following May. This time four of the men (Ed Helms as Hoagie, Jon Hamm as Bob, Jake Johnson as Chilli, and Hannibal Buress as Kevin) decide to team up to try and tag Jerry (Jeremy Renner) as he has never been tagged due to his overall awesomeness. Jerry plans on 'retiring' from the game untagged.

Now I know what you're thinking, how the fudge can you make a movie out of the kid's playground game tag? Well bottom line you can't, and this movie pretty much shows that. The entire notion of grown men running after each other or trying to covertly touch each other and claim 'tag! You're it!' is absurd. When you start to think about this logically, and whilst watching this movie, it just doesn't add up at all. Like sure you could sneak up on someone and tag them, but considering they could be in a crowded supermarket or at home on the couch completely oblivious to anything, well it's hardly challenging is it.

Naturally this movie does its best to conjure up these inventive scenarios where the guys are trying to basically use military manoeuvres to tag their prey. And yes I can't deny there are some great little sequences here showcasing some inventive chaos. I did enjoy the slow-motion action sequences as the guys try to apprehend Jerry whilst at the same time being accompanied by commentary from within Jerry's mind (lovely 'Point Break' homage in here also). Overall it's a nice humorous touch hearing how Jerry breaks down each attempted attack so he can evade being tagged. But God damn you gotta suspend your disbelief because there is just no way someone could evade being 'touched' in these over the top spats. I was sitting watching this movie just thinking...'it looks cool, but seriously, just jump on the guy!'.

Despite the sheer lunacy on display here the characters are also quite relatable and enjoyable to watch. The crux of the plot is Jerry getting married and the guys agreeing to hold off on the game at wedding related events. But as said time after time each attempt is foiled by Jerry's skillful athleticism and trickery. This all culminates in Jerry's fiancée having a miscarriage just when it looks as though the boys will actually tag Jerry. But is this another of Jerry's clever tricks? Up to this point the characters have generally been your typical goofballs, but when the action takes a serious turn it's actually quite impressive how moving and engaging these guys become.

Admittedly Ed Helms pretty much plays the same character he always does, but his characters U-turn ending is definitely unpredicted and showcases some genuinely solid acting. Both Hamm and Johnson are fun but at the same time Hamm kinda seems miscast, he looks too stern, too good looking, too strong, like he should be crushing the others. Renner is also believable as the super suave tag player Jeremy, he does 'cocky' well. But I felt that maybe Hamm and Renner could of swapped roles. As for Buress, I have literally no clue how this guy was cast because he can't act, he isn't funny, and he can hardly talk or walk properly (was that part of the character or a real-life problem?). I can only guess it was the usual quota box-ticking at play again.

Whilst the plot does indeed get better as it progresses (surprisingly) you cannot deny that overall it's insanely stupid. At one point the guys pay some dude $2500 just for information on Jerry! Really?? They actually have a golf cart chase sequence. Jerry sets up numerous Ewok-like booby traps throughout some woods to ensnare the others. A reporter who was originally doing a story on Bob (he was a CEO) decides to follow the guys around to record their antics instead when Bob goes off with them (would a reporter just go off to record some blokes literally acting the fool?).

This movie basically relies on a few key elements such as physical comedy, frat boy humour, and spoofery. Overall it does actually work in part although it's wholly outlandish to the max. The whole time you just can't get over the fact these guys are playing tag! It's an odd one, whilst the cast is solid none of them gel much as a team or as friends throughout the story. It's like none of them have anything much in common despite being friends their whole lives. But you could argue that was the whole idea and this silly game was keeping their friendships alive. Or you could say that's a cop out and the actors just don't gel (bad casting). Either way the movie is surprisingly enjoyable when I fully expected a load of tosh honesty.


Wednesday, 2 January 2019

The Predator (2018)

I was around 11 years old when I first saw the original 'Predator' movie (back in 1989). Whilst at a friend of the families it was popped into the VHS to keep me and my brother quiet whilst the grown-ups enjoyed their evening (I believe they had actually won this particular copy of the film in some competition). I was both amazed and petrified at what I saw. That one evening changed my young life, it warped my little mind. I had become an Arnie fan (despite not knowing who he was) and a Predator fan (despite being terrified of it).

Ever since that moment I yearned for more Predator action which we did (eventually) get with varying degrees of quality. 'Predator 2' in 1990 is still the best sequel by far in my humble opinion. 'Alien vs. Predator' in 2004 was a solid attempt but watered down badly. 'Alien vs. Predator: Requiem' in 2007 got it half right but they forgot to turn on the lights. And 'Predators' in 2010 was again solid but too similar to the original. Alas all sequels have failed to carry the franchise further with much success.

So this leads us to the next inevitable attempt to try and revitalise the franchise. And what better way than to use one of the original cast members who has since become one of Hollywood's top action flick writer/directors, Shane Black (and Fred Dekker??). What could possibly go wrong this time?? Surely this was bound to be a home run.

So the start of the movie is a badly paced and edited mess of horrendous proportions. Black essentially copies the start of the 87 original with the Predator ship looming into Earth's orbit, and then essentially copies 'AvP2' by having it crash on Earth in virtually the same looking location. Apparently Predator ships are also able to jump through wormholes in space now? Or create them or something? Jump to a sequence with our main protagonist McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), who is a sniper, trying to save a hostage. The Predator has conveniently crashed in his immediate vicinity and immediately intervenes killing everyone, apart from McKenna who manages to incapacitate the hunter with its own tech which he conveniently found moments earlier.

McKenna is then seen trying to avoid some form of secret US government who are after him because he's encountered an alien lifeform. He reaches what looks like some shitty Mexican looking town (no idea where it was) where he mails the alien tech to his son before being apprehended. Jump to his son receiving the tech in the post, playing with it, and activating it (of course). His son is autistic you see and this conveniently enables him to be able to decipher alien technology. And finally jump to McKenna being stuck on a bus full of other ex-military nut jobs on the way to a military facility for a good probing or whatever.

This is the now overly used and highly cliched part in the movie where we are introduced to the bunch of overly macho military types (thank you James Cameron). We already know McKenna who is the all-round good guy. Along with him we have Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), a Marine veteran who kinda offers the comedic relief...but is black. Baxley (Thomas Jane), another Marine veteran who suffers from PTSD and also offers comedic relief...but is white. So just to be sure they cover both sides. Lynch (Alfie Allen), stereotypical British cockney and ex-Marine sniper. And Nettles (Augusto Aguilera), ex-helicopter pilot was has suffered brain damage, so more comedic relief. A small team of foul-mouthed, unfunny, ridiculously over the top macho meatheads.

So the introduction is weak, very weak, but things don't really get any better. The secret government organisation manage to capture the Predator (they've known about the Predators for a long time) and its here we get the God-awful throwback line of 'you are one beautiful motherfucker' from the utterly pointless character of Dr. Bracket (Olivia Munn). I cringed deep into my seat. Turns out this Predator came to Earth to help mankind, to try and save us. But that doesn't stop him from escaping the facility and killing every human that stands in his way. In fact up to this point there is no sign whatsoever that this Predator is in fact trying to help mankind, he's having way too much fun slicing humans down with his weapons.

These government dudes make me laugh too. They know all about the Predator yet when he breaks free they try to shoot him. That didn't really work with the encounter back in 87 or 97, why would it work now with the Predators being even more technologically advanced. Also the government agent leader Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) is such a cocky moron. Its like Brown and his costars had a competition to see who could be the most arrogant asshole of the feature. The real problem is none of these characters are enjoyable to watch, they are just cringeworthy and annoying.

It's worth pointing out that the military prisoners manage to escape from their military prison escort really really easily. Its literally as if they didn't even have to try because the guards were so dumb and useless and they knew exactly how to defeat them. You got the impression they could of quite easily broken free at any point, whenever they wanted too. No effort required at all, cos they're that badass apparently.

Moving swiftly on we get to the main crux of the story, the all new giant CGI (that's the cue to roll your eyes). Yep for some bizarre reason (despite other movies with similar ideas) Black decided to once again introduce a new breed of Predator, but this time a giant one. The super Predators from 'Predators' were a reasonable idea but badly imagined, I thought, especially the new look face. This giant Predator looked the part but also looked entirely fake because he was CGI, a huge mistake. Not only that whoever did the motion capture movements for the creature swaggered way too much trying to be tough looking. Don't get me started on the way he ran. I'm still not entirely sure why he was so big. Something about the Predators apparently taking DNA from their prey to enhance themselves. So why aren't all Predators giants?

Turns out climate change will eventually kill off the human race (political commentary, groan!) and the Predators know this somehow. So they are coming to Earth to get all the DNA they can. McKenna's son being autistic also plays into this because the Predators see this as the next step in human evolution. But that still doesn't really explain why there are still regular sized Predators and why one particular Predator wants to help humans. Must be an SJW Predator. Nonetheless try and help us he does, and he does so by leaving the human Iron Man suit? OK an Iron Man suit with a Predator mask and shoulder cannons. Really Black? Of all the things you could of stuck in at that point, Dutch, Harrigan, a xenomorph, Ripley, Newt, an engineer, Bishop, Royce etc...You chose a flippin' Iron Man suit?! Presumably to jump on the Marvel bandwagon.

But that's not all, oh no. We once again have Predator dogs because this movie is set before Robert Rodriguez's movie. The only thing is they look bloody awful, laughable basically. They essentially look like small four-legged Predators. They have the same eyes, a similar facial structure, and they have their own mop of dreadlocks which looked terrible!!. To top this nonsense, and I can't believe Black managed to do so, they even made one of the Predator hounds docile to the humans after it takes a bullet to the brain. Come on Black!!

Surprise surprise in the end the movie boils down to a long action sequence set in an environment which looks suspiciously like the original 87 movie. There are some admittedly decent moments but also some incredibly dumb moments. The giant Predator apparently eating the face of one victim? Traeger blowing his own head off with the Predator shoulder cannon (ffs!). Black tries to engage and lure us in with musical trickery by playing the original movies key tunes, but it just doesn't work. Finally McKenna manages to bring down the Predator and whilst looking at it he asks 'what the hell are you?'. But before the Predator can reply McKenna blows its face off. So why ask?

I honesty don't think I've been so disappointed with a movie, a movie franchise that I'm a fan of. The plot is terrible, its all over the place and doesn't make any proper sense. We know the movie underwent huge reshoots and boy does it tell. The cast was bad, real bad. Its like they deliberately chose the worst collection of people they could find, or they were forced to. None of them gel, most can't act, they aren't funny, and they aren't badass. The worst part being some of them, such as Olivia Munn's character, weren't even needed. Clearly that's the modern day diversity quota in action again. The movie is also chock full of pointless tiresome meta references from the original two movies (mainly the first of course), mainly repeating lines and visual elements. There really is little originality here and what there is is just nonsense.

Just because Shane Black was in the original movie and contributed to it, doesn't mean he's the right guy for the job, it seems. Black has done good work sure, he's good at action comedies sure, but this was the wrong route for this franchise. Honestly, I thought Black would be good with this, I thought he would understand the franchise, well apparently he doesn't. As a result we now have possibly the worst Predator movie ever, and yes I am including the Strause brothers gloomy effort.