Sunday, 31 March 2019

Bumblebee (2018)

The sixth (sixth!) installment in this tired crappy epileptic fit inducing CGI fest sees us going back to the 80's. Yes we're going back to the 80's yet again, well a 2019 politically correct revision of the 80's that is. Because we all wanted to know the origins of the Autobot Bumblebee right? Like how he got his name etc...ugh!

The Plot (and a brilliant start!): The story kinda harks back to the original 1986 animated which saw Autobots fleeing Cybertron as the Decepticons gain an advantage in the war. Here we see the Autobots on the brink of defeat and Optimus Prime evacuating his last warriors to other planets. B-127 (Bumblebee) is chosen to go to Earth so he can set up a new base of operations for the Autobots. What follows is a pretty safe stereotypical plot where Bumblebee meets a teenage girl, makes friends, and must stop two other Decepticons from alerting the rest of the Decepticons and bringing them to Earth.

The brilliant part of this movie (as I'm sure most will agree) is in fact the all CGI beginning showcasing the Cybertronian war on Cybertron. This is exactly what we the (original 80's) fans have wanted all along. This sequence was fantastic! Why? Because they actually recreated all the characters and Cybertron as they appeared in the classic cartoon and toy franchises. Cybertron looked like the Cybertron. Prime looked like Prime. We actually got Soundwave and Shockwave looking like Soundwave and Shockwave! And if you paid attention (throughout the movie, not just at the start) we also saw classic characters like Wheeljack, Brawn, Starscream, Cliffjumper, Thundercracker, Ratchet, and a wonderful little sequence with Ravage...including the original transforming sound effect!

I can't stress how much I loved this opening sequence! It looked gorgeous! This was exactly what I've always wanted to see in a modern Transformer movie. The little flashbacks we get from Bumblebee give us some more of these sequences (which eventually gives us Ravage) and frankly that's all I wanted. I had literally no interest in the live action trash that followed.

Live Action Trash: Yep so after the superb all CGI opening we got the rest...and it was just as shit as all the previous Bay garbage. Naturally the lead protagonist is a strong female character, because that's all you're allowed now. Naturally her sidekick is a black guy, because that's the Hollywood standard couple now. Naturally the evil Decepticon was female, becau...ah feck it.

Bumblebee himself looks as he did in the Bayformer movies with minor changes which is fine I guess. Megatron is also not present, so I'm guessing this is for continuity reasons? I'm guessing this movie does tie in with the Bayformer movies?? Like what the hell is this supposed to be?? It hints at being connected...but how can it be??

Unfortunately we still have the same damn issue of the people behind the movie creating new Transformers. Why??? Why do they keep doing this??? I know it's for toy sales but still...just use existing classic characters for flip's sake! There are so many awesome characters to choose from. Stop creating shitty looking new characters! And why do they fire regular human-made bullets?? That literally makes no sense. And why do they know martial arts?? Stop it!

There are other weird and annoying plot conveniences too such as Bumblebee's power core being damaged when he arrives on Earth. But when the girl finds him he's suddenly fine and dandy. So did he recharge or fix himself or something? John Cena's military character is literally the most stereotypically cliched military character you've ever seen with the most stereotypically cliched plot arc you've ever seen. Also when Bumblebee is on Cybertron he's a kickass Autobot warrior. When he's on Earth he acts like a little child or scared puppy...literally. What the hell is that about? A lame way to try and suck emotion from us the viewers as we watch a teenage girl play with her large Autobot puppy? Pfft!

'you sound like a bumblebee, I'm gonna call you that'...What?? Literally what??

And then you have the 80's nostalgia, good God. Both teenage characters bedrooms are like an advertisement from an 80's era Toy 'R' Us advert. That might sound logical but there was just something so clinical about the look, too perfect, too neat, too on the nose. I mean I grew up in the 80's but I never had multiple movie posters on the wall because back in the day movie posters weren't actually a thing you'd have or could get easily (unlike today).

The locations were good I'll give it that. That classic sunny/misty Californian coastal town setting always seemed to suit the era. But just in case you forgot we were in the 80's you had the soundtrack. I think the movies smashes out a classic 80's tune every five minutes or so. Literally every scene change gets a new 80's track, its insane. One after another no matter what's happening, doesn't matter if the songs match the scenes, they just cram as many as they can in.

Is this the Transformers movie we always wanted? No. Is this any different from the Bayformer movies? Not really no. Is the all CGI beginning of this movie what we always wanted? Hell yes! Why are they still making this live action shit? It's definitely the best Transformers movie so far, but it's not got much competition lets be honest. This movie only gets the score it does because of that beginning sequence. Other than that the rest of this movie is the usual bland safe rubbish you've come to expect from movies these days. Watch the CGI start then switch off and ponder what could have been.


Friday, 29 March 2019

Triple Threat (2019)

Triple threat? I guess this refers to the heroic trio of Tony Jaa, Tiger Chen, and Iko Uwais. Sounds cool, I wonder if they came up with the cool title first and then wrote a story around it?

This movie starts off very much in the same vein as the Arnie classic 'Predator'. A group of elite mercs in the depths of the sweaty Thailand jungles closing in on an enemy base. Their apparent mission? To rescue a prisoner. The team? Deveraux (Michael Jai White), Joey (Michael Bisping), Mook (Jeeja Yanin), Steiner (Ron Smoorenburg), and Dom (Dominique Vandenberg). Hired for assistance are local mercs Long Fei (Tiger Chen) and Payu (Tony Jaa). The team find the base and proceed to eliminate everyone...just like in 'Predator' (heck Steiner even looks like Hawkins).

Little do Fei and Payu know, they have been tricked by the others and have rescued a deadly terrorist called Collins (Scott Adkins) and killed a whole load of innocent people. At the same time Jaka (Iko Uwais), a soldier at the base, gets fudged up badly and loses his wife in the process. So the bad guys leave Fei, Payu, and Jaka for dead and continue with the rest of their dastardly plan. And that plan consists of assassinating Miss Xian (Celina Jade), a rich businesswoman who plans to donate a shit load of money to charity in the city (somewhere in Asia) to help clean up the corruption (not sure how that works but whatever). Apparently they needed Collins to achieve this?

And this is all at the behest of yet another evil female boss called Su Feng. She spends all her time atop a luxurious skyscraper donned in expensive attire drinking fine wine. She's basically a criminal overlord but we get no real idea as to what she actually does.

So the plot is fast and loose here. I'm sure there are reasons for this that and the other but essentially its a bit of a guessing game because really there could numerous reasons and nothing is fully explained or expanded upon. Take breaking out Collins for instance. Was that just something his team wanted to do or was that a specific order from Su Feng for her assassination plans later on? Could be either. But Collins and co are now after Miss Xian and Fei and Payu because they are witnesses to the jungle mass murder.

Later on Jaka sees Fei and Payu taking part in some illegal street fighting. So he challenges Payu and loses. Payu and Fei recognise him and help him out. Jaka then proceeds to get them both drunk so he can run off and report them to the police...for the illegal fighting? Not sure but armed police turn up so whatever he accused them of it was bad! Later on, Collins and co botch their assassination attempt on Xian and she ends up running to the police station where Fei and Payu are. Collins and co storm the police station killing everyone. Jaka pops up in a deus ex machina moment and claims he got Fei and Payu arrested to lure Collins out (because he wants revenge for the death of his wife). But really? Jaka got Fei and Payu arrested just to lure out Collins? Surely there was an easier way? Especially as the duo were on his side. Seemed like a long risky shot to me.

From that point on the movie becomes a long chase sequence as Jaka, Payu, and Fei must protect Xian from Collins and his team, but all three also want revenge. The action set pieces are definitely very slick and have clearly had some money spent on them. This is not your average straight to DVD action schlock. The assassination attempt on Xian was impressive in a 'Heat' type of way, if ludicrous. The bad guys jump out and spray their targets with bullets killing everyone but their intended target. But at least they used real squibs, mostly.

Every character gets their time to shine when it comes to fisticuffs, which is what it's all about. I think Jaa and Uwais get to rumble with most of the bad guys at some point. The fights are naturally well choreographed and shot beautifully highlighting all the moves clearly. Of course every character is a martial arts expert to some degree which is nonsense but hey, look at the product. All these movies are essentially martial arts sequences with a wrap around plot.

But it is interesting to watch these guys use their unique skills against each other, glossy mixed martial arts indeed. Although Jaa, Uwais, and Chen especially don't really look like they'd last very long against Adkins, White, or Bisping. Chen looks like Lloyd Christmas. I did find it amusing that in most fights the bad guys are wearing bulletproof vests/body armour and yet, apparently, they still feel the impact from the good guys blows. Again, I know the product but guys, come on, a little sense please.

Yep so everyone knows what to expect. Generally most folk who watch this will be martial arts fans and with that I'm sure they will enjoy. Myself being an old JCVD movie fan and growing up with the 'classics' in the genre this doesn't really offer much. The acting is bad all round of course. Alas Adkins has that huge issue of having the bod and moves, but the looks of your average English bloke next door type. He literally looks like the guy who turns up to give your boiler its annual maintenance check.

But the real problem here (and with most modern martial arts movies) is the lack of real story and character development. All these modern martial arts movies feel like stunt shows, showcases for flashy moves and nothing else. Back in the day these movies were legitimately solid action flicks that happen to have some ass kickin' martial arts in them, mostly. This is known as the Asian Expendables, which is cool but also kinda the problem. That said, this is easily the best martial arts flick in recent years.


Tuesday, 26 March 2019

1990: The Bronx Warriors (ITA, 1982)

So the story goes that produced Fabrizio De Angelis was in New York and accidentally missed the subway station for his hotel ending up in the Bronx. For anyone not in the know, the Bronx was an area in New York that was a hotbed of crime, poverty, and arson/vandalism from the 60's through to the 80's. Twas on this little excursion that De Angelis came up with the idea of people having to fight their way out of the area. Of course influence from classic movies like 'Escape From New York' and 'The Warriors' didn't go amiss either.

So with that (and the title of the movie) I think you can guess how the plot goes. Its the distant future of 1990 and the Bronx has been declared a wasteland, a no man's land due to the out of control gangs that roam the area. Into this danger zone comes the young heiress to the arms manufacturing giant, The Manhattan Corporation. Anne (Stefania Girolami) has deliberately run away because she is guilt-ridden over the fact she will inherit a company that makes weapons of death (pfft! Typical liberal youngster). Eventually the silly girl is picked up by a gang called 'The Riders' led by Trash (Marco Di Gregorio).

Luckily for her Trash decides to protect her from the mercenary Hammer (Vic Morrow) whom the Manhattan Corp has hired to find her. At the same time Trash must also contend with other Bronx gangs whom the merc has deliberately managed to turn against each other in order to get to Anne.

I think the first thing I noticed about this movie was the beautiful camera work. One of the first big sequences we see is Trash and his gang meeting with The Orge (Fred Williamson), the self-proclaimed 'King of New York'. This takes place on the banks of the East River in Brooklyn (I think) which at the time was clearly a very run down squalid area. The location is very close to the Brooklyn Bridge and gives a scorching panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline with the Twin Towers (World Trade Centre) front and centre. The cinematography work here is gorgeous. Sergio Salvati pans in out and around the two opposing gangs and their array of vehicles as they stand-off against each other. At the same time a lone drummer sitting on some old theatre seats (that have clearly been ripped out of somewhere) beats a rhythm to add tension to the meet.

Bit of interesting trivia. The lone drummer was simply some random guy who happened to be on the location at the time when the crew turned up. Director Enzo Castellari liked the cut of his jib and decided to leave him in the sequence without giving any explanation as to why this guy was there. Another bit of trivia, due to Italian monetary regulations (or whatever) 50% of the movie had to be shot in Italy. To solve this issue interior shots were done in Italy, whilst exterior shots were obviously done in New York.

As for the gangs well if you think along the lines of 'The Warriors' mainly, with other bits and pieces thrown in, you'll know what to expect. 'The Riders' are your typical biker gang; all black leather, blue jeans, bandanas, shades, tattoos, knuckle dusters, lots of spikes etc...Then you have 'The Tigers' led by The Orge. Not sure why these guys were called 'The Tigers' when they should clearly be called 'The Pimps'. Yep these guys all dress like characters from a blaxploitation movie, think 'Superfly', including all the jazzed up pimpmobiles.

Then we have 'The Zombies' who are a gang of dudes that get around on rollerskates, fight with hockey sticks, and wear German Nazi helmets painted white. Not sure why they call themselves 'The Zombies' though. I would have thought that monicker would have gone to the gang that literally dress in rags, walk around as if they were hobbled, and apparently live in piles of garbage in the sewers? Like why would anyone join a gang like that?? There was also a gang that appeared to look like the Droogs gang from 'A Clockwork Orange' who tapdance when they fight in their sparkly outfits. There was a gang wearing pastel coloured zoot suits. The Orge's sidekick was a thigh high boot wearing blonde with a bullwhip; whilst Hammer comes across like an out of shape Paul Kersey crossed with Harry Callahan.

Just to be clear, this movie does in fact come across as the perfect live-action adaptation of Sega's Streets of Rage, from time to time. Whilst the action is somewhat daft and at times crude, you can't deny there is a certain charm to it all that makes you smile. Watching all these different gang members fight each other in big fisticuffs screams videogame adaptation and hilariously is possibly the best I've seen, in a corny way. It's also amusing that despite being set in New York the movie feels so small in scope. Sure the backdrops can be delightful and it is quite historical looking back at the slum that was a mid 80's Brooklyn and the Bronx, but they clearly use the same streets and interiors over and over. Indeed the interiors are clearly very Italian-esque compared to the all American exteriors. The Orge's lair looks like the sewers of a Roman Amphitheatre.

But aside from the crazy costumes and copyright issues, the cast is undeniably one of the best parts of this movie. Lead actor Marco Di Gregorio as Trash is by far the strangest casting here. Apparently he was only 17 at the time of filming but you'd never guess. Marco has quite the body with strong arms, the perfect pecs, and a long mane of dark wavy hair. His acting is understandably weak but his strong firm tall bod with handsome Italian features allow you to look the other way. He is a surprisingly striking lead character (especially with his odd way of walking).

The rest of the gang is an odd mix frankly that includes some actors, such as George Eastman, that director Castellari has used before in his other features. You have some actors like Joshua Sinclair who don't really fit the part of a biker gang member. Christopher Connelly who looks to be struggling throughout the whole process. Fred Williamson who seemed to be king of the crappy Italian rip-offs at the time. And one of Trash's henchmen looks like Freddie Mercury. Come to think of it, all the gang members were pretty old apart from Trash, hardly any youngsters.

Naturally the big finale sees all the gangs join together to fight against the dastardly Manhattan Corporation in an epic showdown (well kinda). Things get crazy with gang members and faceless corporation soldiers being killed left right and centre. Explosions, knives, guns, rocket launchers, martial arts, bikes, sweat, blood etc...It's all there in glorious Italian B-movie fashion. I mean what can I say?? How can I sum this up? The cheap facepaint, the ridiculous outfits, the outrageous 80's rockstar hairstyles, the trashy dialog, the absurb gangs with their names, and the blatant copyright infringements on some Hollywood movies. It's like 'The Warriors' but set during the day. Yes it's terrible, but its also fabulous God damn it!


Friday, 22 March 2019

The Thing From Another World (1951)

This was a first time viewing for me and to my surprise we are introduced to some amazing opening credits with the title screen. Yes the title sequence for this movie is in fact exactly the same as the title sequence for John Carpenters 1982 movie (that 'slow-burning letters through the background' effect). That is because this 1951 original came up with the concept first and Carpenter homaged it in his version. Firstly, I never knew this and secondly the effect looks just as fantastic in this early 51 original.

So the story of this thriller was actually another surprise to me. By that I mean this movie doesn't actually follow the original novel (Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell), unlike John Carpenters remake which was more faithful. In this movie a team of scientists and military types are deployed from their Anchorage base in Alaska to check out a crash site at the North Pole. Once there they discover a UFO in the ice but accidentally destroy it. Luckily they also discover a frozen body too and take it back to their base for examination. Sometime later the body is accidentally thawed out and the alien is let loose. The alien proceeds to kill husky dogs and eventually people by draining them of their blood.

However, despite all this lead scientist Dr. Carrington wants the alien unharmed so he can communicate with it, whilst Air Force Captain Hendry wants to kill it. So its the usual struggle between science and the military. Is the alien misunderstood? Is it maybe scared and trying to defend itself? On one hand you have the scientist that would risk everyone's life to simply try and communicate and learn from the alien (noble but highly dangerous). And on the other, the military officer who simply wants to save his men and the scientists by shooting first and asking questions later (again noble but maybe gung-ho?). It's not quite as low and underhanded as the battle between Ellen Ripley and Carter Burke but there are similarities.

But as I was saying this movie doesn't follow the original source material. Firstly in this movie the alien drains the blood of its victims like a vampire. It feeds on blood. Secondly the alien itself is humanoid (very humanoid) and doesn't shape-shift at all. Obviously there were technical limitations with effects back in 1951 so the alien is unfortunately a man with some basic makeup on. He has some claws and a Herman Munster shaped head and that's about it. But most importantly, the alien has a cellular structure more akin to vegetation. In other words it's a humanoid plant...that feeds on blood? Well I guess that's not unheard of in the plant world, but still. The fact it's essentially a large plant (that looks like a human), that also makes it impervious to bullets which is handy because the humans fire a lot of bullets at it.

So none of the characters in this movie have the same name as the original source material. There is also a large number of characters in this movie making it hard to keep track or feel anything for any of them. The alien is nothing like the alien in the original source material. The plot is by and large totally different. And the alien is killed off in a completely different manner. So overall I was kinda disappointed with this.

Of course being a movie from 1951 there are lots of amusing bits and pieces that were typical of the time. The interior of the Anchorage base looked like the interior of a stately house with bookcases, posh desks, wood panelling etc...When the team accidentally destroy the crashed UFO nobody seems overly bothered! They act as if it was just one of those things, you know, an everyday mistake. Oops we just destroyed the first discovery of alien life on Earth with our explosives, ah well. The movie is hella slow with a load of dialog and pointless romantic crap between Hendry and the lone female character (Margaret Sheridan). The movie really takes time to get going and I found myself yearning for just something...anything to happen!

Alas when things do happen it's also pretty slow, pretty tame, and pretty disappointing when you learn the plot is nothing like the source material. The alien is also a massive disappointment visually but I guess it was better than a big rubbery alien on wires. I admit some of the effects and shots were done well. The sequence where the alien kills some huskie dogs was quite graphic (all things considered). The moment Carrington and co discover a dead drained Huskie stashed in a small compartment was quite shocking (again considering the films age). The fake dog was also quite effective looking too I might add. I'm sure that would have scared the pants off people back in the day. And the sequence where they torch the alien is pretty impressive because the stunt guy is really getting his ass torched! Looked like they almost set the whole set alight too!

So in the end the movie supports the military faction of the large character roster and we're led to cheer for killing the alien. Would Carrington and his fellow thinkers gotten somewhere by trying to communicate with the lifeform? Maybe, but seeing as the alien slapped Carrington to the floor when he tried to have a chat I guess maybe not. Remember this was 1951 America, you always trusted the good looking gruff guy in the US military uniform (and with a production company named after a rifle, Winchester, says it all really). But the fact they kinda portray Carrington as the bad guy is also somewhat frustrating. I mean come on, give this character a break, he's just trying to learn from the newly discovered alien lifeform.

But it's hard to get engaged with this one despite the fact it's known as a classic. Essentially the alien lifeform is a humanoid bloodsucking vegetable or plant. But really its nothing more than a vampire, kinda crappy really. It does show how John Carpenter really nailed his 82 version and how terrifying the alien lifeform could be. So overall what could have been a real cracker turns out to be another run of the mill 50's sci-fi basically. It doesn't really offer anything fresh or dynamic and kinda squanders the great source material.


Tuesday, 19 March 2019

The Above the Rim (1994)

There was a time (the 90's) when films like this were all the rage. Set in somewhat run down, working class, urban areas with heavy minority demographics. Lots of profanity and lots of guns and violence. These films were seen as hardcore, edgy, brutal, gritty etc...They exposed the real urban experience of what life was like 'in da hood'. And for the most part, they succeeded.

I was born in 1978, England. Having lived most of my young life in entirely white populated areas throughout the 80's, when the 90's hit with movies like this it was indeed a real eye-opener for me. I recall how movies like this were treated like really hard adult flicks that you had no chance of seeing because they were deemed far too controversial with all the swearing, guns, and violence. They were virtually placed above the horror video nasties because they were almost seen as snuff films by parents of the day. There would be rumours of how maybe one kid in school (usually the tough troublemaker) had seen one of these films and they would usually be held in high regard. Often going down in the school's folklore as being well 'ard.

Anyway enough of my nostalgic ramblings. This movie was indeed one of those types of films as mentioned above. Amusing nowadays of course because it's so laughable to think that this was ever controversial. What we have here is a very standard sports drama set in Queens, New York. It follows the young high school basketball star Kyle (Duane Martin) as he trains and plays his balls off to try and make it to Georgetown University on a scholarship. In the meantime there is a small local streetball tournament coming up and he must choose between playing for his coaches team or his so-called friend (and gangster) Birdie (Tupac Shakur).

So basically what you have here is the local high school sports star, the golden boy, facing a tough moral decision whether to play for his aging (white) coach; or increase his street cred and play for the local gangster (who has his own streetball team). In the middle is the high school security guard Thomas 'Shep' Sheppard (Leon) who just happens to be the high school's old basketball star from back in the day but got jailed for accidentally killing his best friend (in a really ridiculous way I might add). Shep is also seeing Kyle's mum which pisses Kyle off making it hard for Shep to give him advice on life and hoop dreams.

Yeah so the whole movie is really really cheesy. Its got every cliche on the book I tell ya. Kyle is the hot-headed young star who can't decide between right and wrong despite the fact that the wrong is really obvious. I mean if this dude can't tell that his friend Birdie is bad news then he deserves to flunk out in life frankly. Birdie the gangster is your typical gangsta from da hood. He's literally all baggie pants and top (literally two sizes too big for him). Lots of gold bling dripping around his neck, wrists, and adorning his fingers. Big tan CAT boots, bandana, facial scar, and a close personal henchman to do his dirty work. Oh and his streetball team wears all black...because they're the baddies? Or was that some kind of activist thing?

The plot is incredibly predictable right down to almost every scene. Its literally paint by numbers. Kyle doing well with his school team. Kyle getting slowly lured to the dark side by Birdie as he tries to get him to play for his baddie team. Kyle needs time to think about it. Kyle rebuffs Shep's advice. Shep watches over Kyle like a quiet Jedi or spiritual guide. Kyle's high school coach pisses him off so he decides to play for the evil Birdie. Shock reveal! Birdie and Shep are brothers! Birdie eventually reveals his true colours. Kyle shocked by Birdie decides to return to his coaches school team. The big finale tournament sees the school team play against Birdie's violent baddie team. The goodies are losing badly at first. But they eventually come back to win when, low and behold, Shep enters the game and helps them win.

The core point of the movie is supposed to be how Shep left the neighbourhood after his best friends death, leaving his family in the lurch. It was Birdie who helped get the family off skid row with his nefarious antics. But he was at least there for the family, unlike Shep. This is all explained in one scene which is pretty much the highlight of Shakur's performance amidst lots of stereotypical gangsta acting.

Alas the rest of the plot is a bit light and at times daft. I guess Birdie has his own streetball team because he likes basketball? Or is it simply a tool to reinforce his dominance over the small area that he technically rules (?). And what real importance does this street tournament hold? It seems to be a local thing, nothing of importance. I can see why Birdie would wanna win it, but I dunno why Kyle is bothered about playing in it. Kyle's mother looked about 20 years too old for Shep. Shep playing basketball, on his own, at night, without an actual ball was weird. Obviously meant to be a psychological thing surrounding the trauma of seeing his best friend die, but it looked plain stupid.

The acting overall is actually pretty poor I thought. There are so many occasions when it felt like I was watching a mediocre TV drama. The worst offender is Leon who's character is supposed to be a bitter, introverted and somewhat sullen man; but often comes across like an actor desperately trying not to smile in his scenes. His body language and moody looks are so over the top because he's clearly trying too hard. It's the same for all of the cast in all honesty. They all come across like B-list TV series actors really really trying to act gritty and serious. It's like they're all auditioning for something else and throwing everything they have at the screen. The corny dialog doesn't help things either.

I think the worst thing about this film is the horrendously cringeworthy moment when Shep heroically strides onto the court in the tournament final to play against Birdie's team when the good guys are on the brink of defeat. It's genuinely amusing because its taken so seriously. Then in the wake of defeat Birdie orders his crazy second in command (and star player) to whack Kyle right there on the court in front of everyone! Luckily Shep throws himself in front of the bullet to protect Kyle, what a guy! The final nail in the coffin for me was the preachy and vomit-inducing last sequence showing Kyle playing for Georgetown on TV with everyone else proudly watching (yes he makes it). The entire movie wrapped up in the perfect little bow of good morals.

The film is obviously of its time. Like the soundtrack, the styles, and the attitudes, it offers a solid representation of 90's America that is now heavily nostalgic whilst also being somewhat cringey. It's definitely not as hardcore and brutal as some similar outings and its definitely not the best sports drama out there either. For me looking back this actually comes across as a very safe film for both genres of gangsta and sports. It doesn't really go all out for either but merely decides to plop itself right on the fence. I also get the impression that had this film not had Shakur in it, it wouldn't be remembered much at all.


Saturday, 9 March 2019

It Came From Outer Space (1953)

Well here we are again with another Ray Bradbury story ('The Meteor') given the big screen treatment. But this time the movie just happened to be the first 3D release by Universal International, the first movie in the big 3D science-fiction wave of the 50's. Not only that the picture was directed by the one and only Jack Arnold who was no stranger to this genre. What could go wrong?

Well first things first, the plot is kinda unexciting to be honest. You're stereotypical smartly dressed (dare I say...white) leading couple happen to spy a meteor as it crashes to Earth...once again in the deserts of the American West. Of course it isn't a meteor but a crashed alien spaceship, of course. The duo try to explain this to the locals but no one believes them and a rockslide has since buried the ship. Soon enough various locals start to disappear and then reappear but in a zombie-like state. This eventually leads to the Sheriff believing the story and delving deeper.

Having tracked down the entrance to the crashed alien ship through a mine, our protagonist attempts to communicate with the aliens before the Sheriff blows them away with his trusty gun. He discovers that the aliens are quite harmless and merely crashed on Earth whilst on route to another destination. They are in fact shape-shifters and take the form of humans they have kidnapped in order to move around and gather the materials they need to repair their ship. The kidnapped humans are not harmed. That's literally it! That is the plot in its entirety.

So as you can imagine the story is the usual slow pace you would come to expect from a picture like this. That's not a bad thing but when the plot is as thin as this it ain't great either. Most of the run time is spent following the protagonists around as they literally drive back and forth through the desert to various locations to speak to various people (usually the same ones!). I swear you see the same locations and backdrops in shots over and over (but I guess the desert does look similar). Yep as with most of these old sci-fi flicks its all desert desert desert.

You'd think the movie might have become more creepy or fun when people start disappearing and reappearing as zombies, nope. People pop up in a zombie-like trance and merely walk around without showing any emotion. Sure the musical score does it best to try and convey pending doom and terror but it doesn't really work. It might have been more interesting to see some kind of mark or defect on the zombie humans to add intrigue. Admittedly you are thinking that the aliens have taken over their brains or killed the humans replacing them with copies, but alas it's not that cool.

The aliens themselves aren't seen much at all. We get a small glimpse of them towards the finale as one leaves the mine. What do they look like? Well they look like large pulsing slimy blobs of veiny jelly with a single big eye slap bang in the middle. They also appear to have tiny arms with claws. I believe they move like snails as they leave a shiny glittering trail of something on the ground as they go.

They basically look like H.G. Blob in Futurama or the pleasure GELF Camille in Red Dwarf (both probably inspired by this movie). Its a good job they are shape-shifters though because their original form would be no good for anything...such as basic construction. Naturally they are also hyper-intelligent and seem to be able to project holograms of themselves or appear in spirit form before people? I dunno. We get these weird sequences from an alien point-of-view as they watch and approach people in the air...or something, like an apparition. Still, they are admittedly quite eerie looking.

Gotta be honest, I wasn't all that impressed with this one. Having read up on it the movie did relatively well and is now seen as a bit of a classic! Personally I don't see this. It's not a bad movie it's just very slow with nothing much to show in the outcome. Heck the movie even carries on for some time after we have discovered the aliens are friendly and merely trying to rebuild their ship, yet still nothing really happens. I mean, there's nothing wrong with the plot, the movie just feels like a waste of time. It feels like maybe it should have been a Twilight Zone episode.

I guess the one highlight in this movie is the fact the aliens are, for once, intelligent friendly. They have to hide their true forms because they know humans would be afraid. They try not to cause panic and alarm (although kidnapping people was a wrong move). In the end the aliens are actually more afraid of humans, or at least alarming humans, than the humans are of the aliens. Although I'm not sure if the aliens are genuinely afraid of Humans simply hurting them, or afraid to allow their technology to fall into Human hands. Inadvertently giving a dangerous aggressive species more potential to cause harm. Not wanting Humans to know of life beyond the Earth.

Anyway, it looks good, well shot, solid acting, and a solid looking alien. But overall so very dull and aimless.


Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Robin Hood (2018)

It seems that as more time passes by heroes of old become more of a nostalgic twinkle for many. Legendary tales of heroic warriors, knights, Kings, and outlaws no longer ignite our imaginations it seems. Either that or modern films are not able to capture the magic anymore. But when you combine a classic historical outlaw with modern comicbook styling, shouldn't it work (for the target audience)? Or is that the right angle to take with such a character?

Well I'm not gonna bore you with the story of Rob...oh they totally changed it. Yep, going into this movie you have to understand one very important thing, this isn't a traditional Robin Hood tale. Director Otto Bathurst made the decision to essentially change everything about this historical English tale to the point that it's almost unrecognisable. So apart from the basic story being jettisoned, we are now faced with some weird quasi-Nottingham set within some weird quasi-England.

To be clear. Nottingham now looks like something from a Tolkien novel. The city now looks more like a sparkling sprawling Elven citadel mixed with your typical poorer areas that look like Orc ramparts. Within the city (from what I could tell) there are now VAST mines with VAST steel infrastructures and minecart tracks. There are HUGE crucibles filled with gallons of molten steel suspended upon high. The architecture of the building interiors seem quite modern and everything is spotless both inside and out. And there appears to be people of various races within the city! Bear in mind this is supposed to be England in the 15/16th Century.

Then alongside all that you have the look and attire of the people. Firstly most everyone is nice and clean with relatively smart haircuts and facial hair. Secondly they all appear to be wearing relatively modern clothes. Robin (Taron Egerton) parades around in a waxed Barbour looking jacket, a machine stitched hoodie...well machine stitched everything! Whilst the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) seems to be wearing suit jackets which are immaculately made...and clean! Heck in the common folk are well dressed and clean, even in riot attire. But then the regular knights of Nottingham (the Sheriff's men) look like gladiators out of a Mad Max or Conan movie.

The action and weaponry in this movie is also bizarre. I when I say bizarre I mean its been hyper-modernised to try and attract the kids. At the start we see Robin and Guy of Gisborne fighting back to back in the Crusades (absolutely no St George's Crosses of any description anywhere I might add, oh and one of the Crusaders is black??). The Crusaders move around holding their bow and arrows like a modern soldier. They move like modern soldiers. Their attire is all identical and has similar colours to modern US soldiers. The arrows they fire make bullet-like impacts with a spray of debris. Some soldiers seem to have machine-gun like crossbows. There is even a large mounted machine-gun like crossbow! Hell even the rocks thrown by catapults cause explosions, it's laughable.

It's here Robin meets a Muslim/Saracen (Jamie Foxx) whom he saves after his son is brutally executed by Gisborne. Although I'm not sure why Robin gets so upset seeing as this was commonplace at the time seeing as they were at war. Long story short this character becomes Little John, he's not actually the character of Little John (they have excluded him for some reason), he takes that characters place (for quota reasons presumably. Can't have too many white guys can we). Hilariously this guy gets back to England by stowing away in the bowels of a small ship (literally!). Not sure how he survived without food and water though considering they would have been at sea for months but I guess I'm being picky.

I guess I'm also being too picky when I question how a Saracen can walk around Nottingham freely without raising any suspicion or outright outrage because he's a Muslim! Errr...hello? Did no one stop to think why a Saracen was walking around their English city at a time of war??

Then we have the horse-drawn cart chase sequence, oh boy. This is exactly what you're thinking, maybe. Robin and Marian try to escape on one cart whilst Gisborne chases on his cart along with his men on horseback. They both crash through the mine area at breakneck speed until Robin is forced onto a single horse (after the cart is hit with an explosion), outruns a huge crucible spilling its molten steel and carries on at breakneck speed across sky-high rickety wooden walkways. All in a days work for this superhero.

This isn't a Robin Hood movie. If you took out the name Robin Hood (and everything relating to it) it could be an acceptable fantasy/quasi-historical adventure yarn, maybe. Even then its a generic and predictable mess. In the pursuit of the modern young audience they have infused modern action, modern culture, and Marvel movies into a part historic fable. Now whilst that could work, it simply doesn't here. This just feels all kinds of wrong, it's painful to watch. I don't want to say this but it almost feels like a liberal revisionist take on history at times. It's like they have deliberately tried to jam modern day ideologies into this period of history to comply with a specific section of society who might get upset otherwise.

I think what really pissed me off was the bloody comicbook-esque ending. Oh yeah this ends on a question mark with a fresh new baddie (complete with nasty facial scar) eager to kill Robin and his recently acquired merry men. Feck me we are only introduced to Sherwood Forest at the end because that was saved for the sequel! The sequel we're never getting. Yep, its another case of a movie essentially being a long setup or trailer for another movie which would have given us all the core things we really wanted to see in the first place. Because modern movies ladies and gents.

So yeah, in essence this is basically Robin Hood...the modern (Marvel) superhero version. He can fire arrows in rapid-fire succession. He can fire arrows rapidly in mid-air. He never runs out of arrows. He gets shot by arrows but doesn't die through loss of blood. He fires off witty quips. His sidekick looks like Nick Fury. His merry men are politically correct. He is known as 'The Hood', and he looks like a Mortal Kombat ninja when suited up.

So, going back to my original question, should this have worked? Is it the tale that doesn't hold up or the movie that was poor? Well I realise the director wanted to try something new here but I think what he really wanted to do was make a comicbook movie because that's all this is. In that sense it should have worked but I just don't think kids are interested in Robin Hood anymore. Bows and arrows are of no interest to the younger audience unless they belong to Green Arrow or whoever. On the flip side I don't think older folk are bothered about seeing a superhero-esque Robin Hood because frankly, it's a stupid idea.


Friday, 1 March 2019

White Men Can't Jump (1992)

Well here is a movie title that would probably cause some issues if it were released in the present day.

The first collaboration between Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson was in this unique 'sports comedy' from the early 90's from director Ron Shelton. Its a tale of hustlin' hoops on the west coast. Billy (Harrelson) is a young white male who used to play university basketball (I assume that's a good level because I'm British and I have no clue) in his earlier days but has since run into trouble with some locals hoods. Being a good basketball player he successfully hustles streetballers on their courts by projecting an image that he is useless simply because he is white. Most of the streetballers are African Americans and they automatically assume Billy will be garbage.

Billy plays up his whiteness by deliberately dressing like a typical whiteboy trying to be cool. One sunny day he successfully hustles Sidney Deane (Snipes) in front of all his bros. Deane recognises the hustle and offers Billy a deal to work together hustlin' other players in the area (around LA). The story follows this turbulent 'partnership' as Billy struggles with his love life, gambling/money issues, and the debt he owes to the mobsters. Whilst Sidney must also deal with his wife and child and keeping his image intact.

So Shelton has written and directed a number of sports flicks and they have all varied in quality, I think. In 1988 there was the successful Kevin Costner vehicle 'Bull Durham'. Then in 1994 there was the middling 'Cobb'. Then another Costner vehicle in 1996 about golf in 'Tin Cup', which wasn't as popular as his first Costner collaboration. And then lastly in 1999 he directed Harrelson again in 'Play It to the Bone'. So clearly the man likes the sports genre.

This movie focuses more on the ups and downs of its two protagonists as they struggle to make ends meet, rather than sports. When we do get some sports it's most definitely energetic and engaging (I mean if we're honest here, the movie is simply all about making cool looking basketball choreography), but at the same time a bit shallow. Although I can also say that the flashes of basketball we do get are far more entertaining than the other bits and I found myself getting bored when the duo weren't mouthing off on the court. Yes the constant stream of verbal profanity and 'your mama' jokes are indeed amusing to a degree but again I found myself wanting them to shut up and play.

The actual basketball is well shot and edited but it leaves you wanting. Apparently Snipes and Harrelson trained a lot for this movie and it does show. Both are clearly highly competent with the ball with numerous shots of good pass play, dunking, lay-ups, dribbling skills, three-pointers, and straight shooting from the free throw line. The snappy editing does wonders for the pace of these sequences as does the odd bits of slow-motion to highlight to odd trick shot, dribble or play. The nice touches of having sweat flicking and dripping off players as they play in the LA heat also really adds to the whole vibe (unless it was actual sweat of course).

The problem I had with these sequences was the fact they tended to be very up close and personal with the actors and you don't get much scope. Sure you'll get the odd shot that pans out but for the most part it's all very tight forcing you to just accept that something cool happened. Obviously this done more so with the actors rather than the various real NBA players who made cameos in the film. Don't get me wrong it all looks great; the sunny humid locations, the 90's stylings, the huge white sneakers, the sweat, the somewhat scummy residents watching the games from the sidelines etc...It's all brilliantly effective and realistic looking (inspiring a crap-tonne of future videogames), but at times you just don't see everything.

The locations they use around the LA area certainly help the movie and its vibe. I've never been to LA but this movie really sells you that seedy rundown element of some of the suburban areas. I found myself both loving and hating all the shitty motels Billy and his girlfriend (Rosie Perez with an outrageous Nu Yawk accent) keep dodging too. It actually reminded me of the Miami area with all the pastel coloured buildings on display. The various courts the guys play on are really well scouted too. The only way I can describe them is your typical SNES street basketball type game look; even though this movie inspired those very games and their look.

The comedy, like the entire movie, is somewhat dated now it has to be said. As already mentioned it can get tiresome listening to various characters rant on and on about how good they are or how ugly someones mama is or the array of street jargon which pops up. Indeed there is one sequence where Billy simply doesn't shut up shouting at their opponents trying to psych them out. Off the court things are still pretty madcap with both of the lads trying to keep their lives afloat. But none of it is really that interesting frankly. We know they both have cash flow problems and live in bad neighbourhoods, we get that.

Sidney is more money savvy whilst Billy is infuriatingly stupid with his. Yet I also found it quite unbelievable when Sidney actually took Billy's recent winnings on a stupid bet over dunking. At that point you think they are getting close, and Sidney knows how precarious Billy's personal life is, yet he still takes advantage of him. At the same time the subplot concerning the mobsters after Billy for a gambling debt is pretty non-existent really. There is no real threat or tension with it, it doesn't affect anything much, and its resolved neatly in the end no fuss.

So what do we learn from this movie? Well, if some bloke keeps large sums of cash in his pants (and not in a wallet) then chances are he's probably up to no good or knows something you don't.

But seriously, whilst the story itself isn't anything too original it is at least pretty rough around the edges. Two guys team up to hustle, they are really good, we see them beating various opponents, and they end up entering a competition for a big prize. The only difference is its surrounding street basketball. The twists come in the form of the duo actually breaking up despite winning an earlier big competition (yes there are two big competitions) because Sidney double crosses Billy. And in the end despite Billy winning he actually loses his girlfriend and seemingly ends up remaining a streetball hustler (?).

Yet, I dunno if it was me just being British but despite everything I still couldn't help but feel where these characters lived looked...amazing. Sure they lived in rundown areas but look at the beach and sea view on their doorstep! But maybe that's just me being naive.

It's definitely a bit of a cult movie and somewhat forgotten about now, but I can't deny its aged. The highlight is obviously Harrelson and Snipes working off each other in their first buddy movie. The other main attractions would be the slam-dunking basketball sequences and quickfire trash talkin'. Everything else in between is easily forgotten because it's pretty much inconsequential. But bottom line the movie looks great. Some great shots, great sequences, lots of sweaty biceps if that's your thing, and a feel-good factor despite not having a particularly happy ending or storyline.