Sunday, 24 February 2019

Freejack (1992)

So when was the last time Emilio Estevez was in any sort of big blockbuster?? Anyone? When was the last time anyone heard anything of Emilio Estevez?? Talk about a blast from the past actor! I remember growing up at a time when both Estevez and his brother Charlie Sheen were huge Hollywood movie stars. I kinda miss those days.

This feature was one of those overly ambitious sci-fi movies that came out during the mid 90's which thought it was being really swish and clever with early virtual reality special effects ('Lawnmower Man', 'Hackers', 'Strange Days', 'Virtuosity', 'Johnny Mnemonic' etc...). Admittedly this movie doesn't actually revolve around virtual reality but it does indeed dabble with the visuals. And just like the other movies mentioned said effects have dated horribly; hell they weren't even that great back then. Ah that mid 90's frenzy over VR, hated it.

Anyway, in this science fiction bonanza the year is 2009 (made me giggle) and mega-rich folk are able to use time machines to snatch people from the brink of their own deaths and whisk them into the future so they can put their own minds into said fresh body. The reason? Well if you're old or ill and mega-wealthy you can zap a perfectly decent body (of your choice) back from the jaws of time and death and stick your healthy mind into it. Voilà! You have a new younger fitter body. Why not use people in 2009? Well in this 2009 most people are in poor physical health from environmental pollution and...drug use?

What I found amusing about this movie was how cool they tried to make it. The people you hire to drag people back through time are called 'bonejackers'. I guess because instead of jacking a car you're jacking a dead body. Yeah...'cool bro'. Alas the plot does not delve into how these bonejackers got ahold of these time machines or how they were originally invented. We must just accept this is normal practice in 2009. But get this, if someone who has been bonejacked escapes they are labelled a 'freejack'. Yeah yeah I know! They like...stuck the name of the movie in the actual movie!! Mindf*ck!!

So back in 1991 Alex (Estevez) is an F1 driver (pfft!!) who gets hurled through time seconds before he dies in a fiery crash. In 2009 powerful corporation owner Ian McCandless (Anthony Hopkins) wants Alex's body for his aging mind. McCandless has hired the bonejacker mercenary Victor Vacendak (Mick Jagger) to deliver Alex. But at the same time McCandless's second in command Mark Michelette (Jonathan Banks) secretly wants McCandless dead so he can take over. It's amazing how society changed in 18 years! Time travel was invented and people stick their minds into dead people brought back from the past!

So as you would expect this mess leads to a whole load of really crappy and dated looking action sequences that wouldn't look outta place in a TV show. Vacendak and his men drive around in brightly painted armoured vehicles for some reason (bright red and blue at one point). Vacendak rides around in a red armoured tank whilst some of his men drive around in shitty looking dune buggy things that wouldn't look outta place in the Mad Max universe. Pretty odd considering they're in New York.

There is your standard 90's fetish club sequence with loads of people in skimpy gear. Dunno why but so many 90's flicks have these. It's here that we get a cameo from Jerry Hall, gee I wonder why. Another staple of these types of 90's flicks were the clearly extremely limited sets. An issue with so many ambitious 90's sci-fi movies. You can clearly see they have literally only got one street to work with and everything is crammed onto it. They'll have a couple of expensive full-blown working vehicles. Tonnes of extras to block out the edges of the sets. And a ridiculous amount of props, steam/smog, and debris (as these are often apocalyptic settings). It's amusing because you know the camera is unable to move an inch to either side. What's even more amusing is in some background shots you can see regular New York going about its daily business.

This really is an oddball movie frankly and you need only look at the cast to prove that. Emilio Estevez is the hero yet he's not really ever been the leading man/action man type. Rene Russo plays his fiancée who again isn't that much of an action star. Anthony Hopkins has clearly made a big mistake. Probably wanted to 'get down with the kids' and in with the VR hype. And then of course you've got Mick Jagger as one of the villains, for some reason. Of all the people, why Mick Jagger?? He looks so out of place and  clearly didn't wanna cut his hair for the role hence he looks a tool with that helmet perched on his bonce. This has to be one of the most mismatched cast lineups ever!

One thing I didn't really get with this movie was at the end, why does Vacendak allow Alex to go free? McCandless's mind is lost which would make Michelette the new boss. Granted Vacendak doesn't like him but why would he side with Alex? Was it just because of that one moment Alex helped him in a shoot-out? Seems a bit of a cop-out to me.

I guess this could fall under the 'so bad its good' umbrella for some. For me it's just bad. A very dated, very typical, cheap looking 90's piece of garbage that seemed to try and ride the coattails of so many other franchises. It almost feels like one of those horrific videogame adaptations that were reeled out throughout the 90's, almost.


Sunday, 17 February 2019

The Blob (1988)

'Beware of the blob, it creeps and leaps and glides and slides' etc...Where as the original 1958 horror movie started off with a bizarre merry little tune that left you wondering if you had accidentally wandered into a kids flick. The start of this remake of the 80's is just that, pure 80's, and it's pretty glorious. This time you could be forgiven for thinking you had wandered into a screening of the something like 'The Explorers'.

Once again a small community in the US must bare host to an amorphous acidic organism that visually appears to be a gelatinous blob. Said blob arrives in said small US town via a meteorite which impacts the Earth one evening. No sooner has the meteorite touched down some curious Earthling manages to prod and poke the blob into action thus commencing its reign of liquefying terror. As time passed the residents realise they are under attack from a monster and must work together to stay alive. Eventually a suspicious military organisation arrives on the scene to save the day, or will they? 

I think the first and main thing I didn't really like about this remake was how they treated the blobs background. In the original movie the blob is an alien entity from space. In this remake the blob is a top-secret biological weapon made by a top-secret government agency. Said agency shot the weapon into space during the Cold War because it was too dangerous. So obviously this is nowhere near as cool as having an unknown alien slithering around, in my opinion. Having the creature being a government weapon takes away all the mystery if you ask me because it's man-made. I mean I like how they connected the plot back to the 50's era (of the original) but I really hated the fact the blob was merely a man-made weapon.

Still, at the same time the question remains of whether or not the blob (or mass) was a sentient being. In the 58 movie it was an alien entity or amoeba. Are amoebas sentient creatures or merely cells that have a basic natural instinct for survival? A thoughtless mechanism? Did it come from a planet full of blobs? Did it spawn/grow on the meteorite with the help of intergalactic elements? You had intriguing questions lingering. In this remake the blob is merely a human bioweapon, but is it sentient? Did it start off as a thoughtless mechanism and evolve? Is it a mutated amoeba? Or is it a purely man-made material of some kind? Interesting but not as fun as an alien entity. Anyway, at least we don't have those Russian/Cold War/Communist theories hanging around this newer films neck. 

The blob itself is very much in line with what you have all seen in 'Ghostbusters II'. The visual effects (handled by Tony Gardner) on both the blob and the pink slime are very similar indeed. A fantastic combination of stop-motion, models, miniatures, and a shit-tonne of practical makeup effects. In typical fashion for a movie of this era every trick in the book was utilised. Some of the effects still hold up today, such as the blobs first two victims who get completely dissolved away. The old man who discovers the blob gets his lower half (belly downwards) eaten away. Whilst in a neat twist, Paul (who you think is the main protagonist), gets completely digested by the blob in a mind-blowingly gory sequence of goo.

Its the individual death sequences earlier on that really stand out today and still send a shiver down your spine. The chef in the diner getting sucked down the plughole headfirst is particularly disturbing. And no not even the kids are safe in this movie as one little boy gets half dissolved away whilst being dragged underwater in the sewers. On the flip side the effects do get a bit ropy towards the end. As the blob gets bigger the bluescreen effects become more obvious, the blob itself starts to look a bit rubbery, and the sets and miniatures also stand out a bit. It can actually pull you out of the movie, they are that obvious I'm afraid, shame.

The characters are alas your typical bog-standard 80's fair to be frank. As said the only real surprise is young Paul getting killed at the start because you assume he's the good looking protagonist. Nope that mantle goes to Kevin Dillon as Brian Flagg the local yob who wears a dirty black leather jacket, has long hair, and rides around on his clapped out old motorbike. Yep, in case you didn't notice Flagg is the 'rebellious push back against authority' character who nobody trusts because he's a bad egg; but during this crisis he turns his attitude around and becomes the hero.

All the other characters fit into very familiar moulds. You have the calm stoic town Sheriff who doesn't judge anyone or make rash decisions. The somewhat loose cannon deputy (played by Paul 'Robocop' McCrane) who hates Flagg because he's got attitude. Shawnee Smith is the young teen love interest who gradually becomes a strong female character over the course of the movie. Joe Seneca is the (poor mans?) Morgan Freeman-esque smooth-talking bad guy who is obviously dastardly. All his men are basically blob fodder. The town also has a good Bible-thumping Christian Reverend to boot. And then naturally you have a whole selection of stereotypical small-town American folk who are there to generally get killed or pad out mini-plots.

I think the movie suffers as it heads towards its big finale. Despite everything that's going on you'd think more emergency services would have turned up. Surely someone would have called someone. Its also amazing how this town only seems to have two cops, the Sheriff and his deputy. Are all US towns understaffed like this?? The movie does use the 58's premise of cold stopping the blob, although here it involves an action sequence and explosion of course. There is also a vast amount of deus ex machina going on here, main characters getting saved right at the brink over and over.

So what can I say overall? The movie is pretty bleak but also uses dark comedy or gallows humour to good effect. There is a good sense of terror and isolation within the town because it is in the middle of nowhere (but come on, it's not set in the 50's. It wouldn't be that cut off). There is also a good sense of despair and madness towards the end too as people are getting killed left and right with no rescue in sight. No one knows what to do. But its the very final sequence of the movie that kinda ruined it for me. A sequence that basically sets up a sequel but is also just plain stupid (it revolves around the Bible-thumping reverend who by this point has gone insane).

I remember seeing this movie in the videoshops on the top shelf back when I was a kid. One of the many ominous VHS covers that both scared and intrigued me, a real video-nasty of the day. The kind of movie that I had zero chance of seeing, but if I could have, I probably wouldn't have been brave enough. Upon reflection its easily one of the best 80's horror movies around, criminally underrated and forgotten about. The practical effects alone make it worth the watch. It's not perfect, there are silly issues, and it is for the most part very predictable and stereotypical of the day. But any horror fan has to see this.