Tuesday, 23 April 2019

The Tall Guy (UK, 1989)

In the long quirky career of Jeff Goldblum there sits this 1989 British comedy that feels somewhat out of place, an oddball offering, much like the man himself really.

Directed by the late great chubby British comedian Mel Smith, this movie follows the somewhat dreary and lonely life of one Dexter King, a tall American actor living and working in London. He is single, something of a nerd, a frustrated and desperate thesp, and renting a room from his nymphomaniac landlady friend. When he goes for injections to help with his hayfever allergies he stumbles across Kate Lemon (Emma Thompson) the nurse. 

Instantly becoming smitten he keeps going back trying to build the courage to ask her out. Eventually he manages this and the two hit it off. The pair enjoy a wild ride together while Dexter gets fired from his straight man job on a long-running comedy revue show to netting a role on an upcoming West End show. Despite this success complications arise and Dexter loses Kate. It then becomes his new mission to win her back.

This is a rom-com with a difference. It is of course outrageously British but because of the time it was made it is also highly cheeky, highly naughty, brilliantly witty, and actually highly intelligent. Yes the movie is somewhat smutty and rude, but it clearly has much thought behind it. Smith's direction definitely seems to be homaging Mel Brooks on some level (minus the spoofing) when taking into the account the quite brilliant mocking of your typical West End musicals. The latter half of the film is indeed a really solid take on the Andrew Lloyd Webber scene. You watch it and think they could actually make this musical on the elephant man, the stage sequences are that well done. But it's not just that, its the clever editing of the comedy, the quick flashbacks that Dexter has gelled with the top writing from Richard Curtis (another British comedy legend).

But it's all the performances that really help sell this. Rowan Atkinson plays an extreme version of himself (I'm guessing it's not what he's really like) as Ron Anderson, a highly popular comic genius who is a complete and utter bastard. This guy basically thinks he's God's gift to comedy and cannot stand to be upstaged by anyone. The disdain he holds for pretty much anyone, but especially Dexter, it's most amusing. As is his apparent arse kissing stories involving the Royal family.

Goldblum is basically Goldblum but his style fits like a glove here. Dexter is just your everyday guy, a tall guy, but an everyday guy. He is relatable, his experiences are relatable, you feel for him, you like him and want to see him succeed. Goldblum is able to engage you with his likable persona. Its actually quite surprising how good Goldblum is with comedy here, both physical and subtle. There are so many great scenes and little moments where a simple facial gesture or double take are hilarious. One highlight has to be the sequence where he ends up getting multiple travel inoculations.

Then you have Thompson as Kate. Again another entirely likable character who is also entirely relatable in every way. Just your average woman doing shift work, renting in a crappy London maisonette, looking for love? I mean really, in this film Thompson is the absolute prime example of 'the girl next door' type. Neither her or Dexter are particularly pretty people, they are both oddballs in their own ways, but love is in the eye of the beholder is it not.

There is of course a whole host of other cameos and smaller roles played by top British talents from both the big screen and British TV. Some are straight, others are quite bonkers much like Geraldine Carmen as Dexters sex obsessed landlady Carmen and Mr. Morrow the blind man who likes being blind. But none more so than Suggs of Madness fame in a cameo which is essentially a small music video. If you think along the lines of 'The Young Ones' then you're halfway there. In the middle of this film there is a musical interlude with the lovely song 'It Must Be Love' by Madness where almost everyone breaks the fourth wall (except for Dexter and Kate). It's most odd really as you'd think this would be better in the closing credits.

As with everything there are some silly bits, inescapable I'm afraid. The entire sex scene (which was quite infamous when I was a kid) is way too silly and overblown. I get the idea of it being a deliberate attempt to be overblown but it doesn't really work. For starters why on earth does she throw her duvet cover out of the window?! Could of just put it aside. Then there's all that food they keep rolling in, eww. They do it on a piano and eventually fall out of a cupboard that was closed, eh? 

When Dexter goes to get his travel inoculations for his imaginary trip to Morocco (all so he can see Kate and try to ask her out), Kate has to leave for an emergency. But instead of leaving Dexter remains and allows the eccentric trainee doctor to give him the shots, much to his alarm. Why didn't he just leave? He didn't actually need the shots. During the film they mention how tall Dexter is a good number of times as if he's the only person in London to be tall. Like they've never come across a tall American before. 

And in the end when Dexter must rush to the hospital whilst still in his elephant man makeup, he gets pulled over by the police. Seeing his deformed face (makeup) the police think he's really needing help so they give him a police escort. When at the hospital Dexter tears off a portion of the makeup, yet the police don't stop him? Wouldn't they be somewhat pissed that they'd just been tricked? This eventually leads to the rather daft finale where, of course, Dexter and Kate get back together in front of a crowd of patients. It's cute but really silly.

By today's standards this is a somewhat cliched film with its typical rom-com tropes. Indeed Curtis has reused many of these tropes again in his subsequent movies. That's not a bad thing as said tropes do work well but to anyone seeing this for the first time they will stick out like a sore thumb. The film is obviously incredibly British in its approach and humour which I'm sure many non-British folk would find both charming and confusing (there is an American cut for this film I believe). It's definitely a forgotten gem of British comedy and easily a forgotten gem in Goldblum's filmography too.


Thursday, 18 April 2019

Coming to America (1988)

Wait up, there has been a movie made by a major Hollywood studio which focuses on a story set in Africa. Which then shifts to focus entirely on African Americans. With an almost entirely black cast, focusing on various parts of African/African American culture. And it was directed by a white man!! Bu..bu..but! 'Black Panther'! yadda yadda yadda...

Yep believe it or not (and many won't) but this was done many many years before all the 'woke' left-wing media would have you believe; and what's more, it was actually directed by a white male! Shock! Horror! Social media outrage! Luckily that white director was the genius that is John Landis. Yeah it helps when you use/hire people based on merit rather than race and gender, but I digress.

The Plot: Very much in the vein of a classic fairytale if you will. The Prince of a fictional wealthy nation in Africa (Zamunda) grows tired of his privileged lifestyle. His every want and desire is pandered to, he is mollycoddled and spoilt. He may be a good man who is young and good looking but finding a true woman is hard because of the fact he is a Prince, a King in waiting. Unfortunately this is made even harder by the fact that he is down for an arranged marriage. So in desperation he flees (sort of) to America in order to find true love. To find a Princess (or future Queen) who will love him for who he is and not his wealth (tall order).

'I want you to bathe him thoroughly'

Right so first off this movie has an amazing cast all round, I think we can all agree. But undoubtedly this was and always will be an Eddie Murphy tour de force. There are many things to like and hark back to in this movie but surely Murphy's array of distinct characters must be at the top. From his genuinely solid performance as an African Prince Akeem. To his gold-toothed loud-mouthed barber Clarence. To his greasy perm haired crappy soul singer Randy Watson (easily the best). Each performance is incredibly unique showcasing Murphy's versatility. Indeed when I was young I never even knew Murphy was behind these characters, straight up. But that can also be attributed to Rick Baker's fabulous makeup throughout. I think the stand-out example of this has to be Murphy's old Jewish barbershop customer Saul. The makeup (essentially whiteface) is so flippin' good for years, as a youngster, I never knew it was Murphy.

The rest of the cast was like a who's who of African American actors at the time. The legendary James Earl Jones played King Jaffe Joffer, a big man with a strong sense of national pride and tradition. Wearing a pair of thick rims on his face, typical 80's suits adorned with some unique jewelry and an amazing, if somewhat un-PC, lionskin complete with head around his torso. Its like he was born to be an actual African King. Arsenio Hall played Semmi, Akeem's close friend, along with his own selection of classic weirdos. He was another of the old ranting men in the barbershop, an ugly female in a nightclub which was fudging hilarious, and his best performance as Reverend Brown. A buck-toothed balding raspy-voiced man of God...who was kinda creepy.

Alongside there was also John Amos as Cleo the concerned father of Akeem's Princess-to-be and owner of McDonald's rip-off McDowell's. Shari Headly played Lisa, the Princess-to-be of Akeem's desire. Madge Sinclair was the more down to earth Queen of King Joffer (they had an arranged marriage). And Eriq La Salle was fantastic as Lisa's also greasy perm haired creep of a boyfriend. Smaller roles and cameos included the likes of Calvin Lockhart, Samuel L. Jackson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vondie Curtis-Hall, and Don Ameche with Ralph Bellamy playing the same characters from John Landis' earlier movie 'Trading Places'. So this officially means 'Trading Places' and 'Coming to America' are in the same cinematic universe. Akeem gives the duo a large wad of bills (as they are homeless after the events of the 1983 movie). We are left to assume they use it to get their fortune back, but did they succeed?

Another strong element in this movie is the locations. The American set parts of the movie are filmed around various New York boroughs and just like 'Trading Places' New York sells the movie brilliantly. There is no better city to film in than Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs for atmosphere and culture, especially when it's cold and snowy. Again just like Landis' 83 rags to riches movie each location sets the scene perfectly and gives you the viewer a really pitch perfect vibe. The cold weather also helps sells the reality of the situations making you glad you aren't right there at that point in time. There's just something so cool and photogenic about old 80's New York in the cold and wet, so gritty vibrant and real.

I should also point out that the African sequences, although clearly done on sets, are highly effective too. The costumes all look very well designed, authentic, rich and vibrant in colour. The royal interiors all look lovely and again very colourful, and I'm sure based somewhat on reality. And the large ceremonial dance sequence is also impressive in scope and I'm sure also based on reality, with some artistic license.

But how can I not mention the biting comedy here?? Back in the day this movie was considered by my folks to be off limits, oh yes. Even the cut TV versions were frowned upon. Obviously they knew it was a comedy but the near-constant profanity and odd bits of nudity were a big no no back then. Far too raunchy (don't laugh, different times). But yes this movie is like a flippin' gold mine of errr...comedy gold. Cruel, unapologetic, definitely not for the faint-hearted liberals, and epic. There are moments of cutesy humour such as Cleo's obvious grovelling towards Akeem when he discovers he's mega-rich. He then goes on to really kiss King Joffers ass which is done to a tee, only to then stand up for his daughter when the King rebuffs them both which was heartwarming.

Then there are the moments when Murphy and Hall let loose and bring the house down. Hall as a slutty big-haired nightclubber who wants a threesome has to be a small highlight. The other crazy women are also very funny too (actual actresses). Murphy as Randy Watson and his band Sexual Chocolate is another top spot. He preens himself as he struts across the stage whaling out his tone-deaf lyrics. Meanwhile Hall as Reverend Brown bounces around the stage praising Jesus and his adoring followers. When Akeem and Semmi decide to blend in with Americans and get kitted out in local attire. Queen Aoleon telling Joffer to put a sock in it as he yells at Akeem for going after Lisa against his wishes. Nice little moment that, you're thinking...yeah you tell him! And of course the constant pressure Akeem feels to look poor so Lisa doesn't catch on to the fact he's a Prince of an African nation.

'bit of an insect problem but you boys from Africa are probably used to that'

In the end one of the most interesting aspects of this movie is the simple fact that it's actually a very good story. Yes its a somewhat crude and crass comedy at times. Yes there's plenty of silliness and hijinks that now comes across as kinda daft. And yes there are many many elements that would be deemed offensive by today's overly sensitive society. But in amongst all that is a truly heartwarming fairytale of searching for love in a big city. There is a solid sense of family in the movie, on both sides on the coin, and every character is generally likable including the 'bad guys'. A touching tale of two different cultures (effectively visualised) coming together and living happily ever after. Arguably Murphy's best comedy/film.

Question is, what happened to McDowell's? I wonder if Maurice became manager?


Saturday, 13 April 2019

Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

So there's a lot of history to the eventual release of this sequel. The author of the books P.L. Travers basically never liked the original Disney movie, except for Julie Andrews casting, and was never shy about making it known. Bottom line there has been a Poppins sequel gestating for decades but Travers has always put the kibosh on said plans because of how she believes she was treated over the original film (methinks she exaggerated personally). But anyway long story short, Travers died in 1996 which essentially gave Disney a green light to go ahead. Pretty low if you think about it, but I guess that was always gonna be the only way forward for Disney.

So what we have here is a belated sequel set twenty-four years after the events in the original 1964 movie. Michael and Jane Banks have now grown up, with Michael having his own kids. They both still live in their childhood home at 17 Cherry Tree Lane, London. Michael is unfortunately a widower and looking after his kids with the help of his sister. Luckily they still have the now aging Ellen the housemaid to help out too. Despite being set twenty-four years later Admiral Boom and his first mate Mr. Binnacle are still alive and living next door!

The Plot: Michael (Ben Whishaw) has taken out a loan from the local bank to help keep ahold of their magnificent house. Alas Michael is having troubles paying this back and the house is on the brink of being repossessed. The only way Michael can hope to pay back the loan is via his bank shares...which he cannot find. Meanwhile bank chairman Mr. Wilkins (Colin Firth) knows about these shares but is secretly trying to prevent Michael and Jane (Emily Mortimer) from knowing of them because he wants their house. Once again luck is on the Banks side as Mary Poppins ((Emily Blunt) arrives to save the day and help...everyone basically.

So I believe this sequel is based upon all the Poppins books, or bits and pieces from all of them. The original 1964 movie was based on the first two books I believe. I have not read any of the original books so a few of my complaints could easily be explained, but I'm gonna mention them anyway.

Firstly we have the character of Jack the lamplighter. Now apparently this chap was an apprentice of Bert (Dick Van Dyke) from the original movie. Now of course this character might be in the books but I don't recall him from the original movie. So to me this just seems like a weak excuse to have another chimney sweep-type bloke in the film to make it more relatable. What happened to Bert? Why not just have an aged Bert? Also the guy they cast as Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) is American, why?? I know Van Dyke was American but did they really need to copy that? Why not cast an actual English actor instead of having a Yank who can't do a British accent. This really seemed like a stupid decision to me.

Another glaring issue was the films pacing and structure. Let's not beat around the bush here, this film is literally a scene for scene copy of the original. They virtually copy the original step by step. This also makes the film incredibly predictable; although even without the same scenes you can guess a mile off what's gonna happen. The whole thing is very Potter-esque. But yeah, of course there's the obligatory animated scenes. There's a song sequence with a crazy person (original had Uncle Albert). There's a scene where the kids and Poppins are told off by the father. There's a song sequence with all the lamplighters...in the sewer? (original had the big chimney sweep song sequence). There's a scene with an old lady selling balloons (original had the old pigeon lady) etc...Heck they even copy many of the original films moments such as Poppins and her mirror reflection.

And then there is the big finale. Let's not sugarcoat this, its nonsense. In order to get to the bank on time to prove the existence of the bank shares to Wilkins (who already knows because he's a dastardly villain), they all decide to turn back time. But they don't actually mean going back in time, oh no. What they mean is they will simply put Big Ben back by five minutes. How does that work? That's not solving the issue because you're still late by everyone else's time. Anyway in order to do this Jack and his mates must scale Big Ben in order to alter the clock (laugh out loud!). So they do this and it looks incredibly dangerous. But when they run into trouble Poppins merely flies up to the clock hands and does it effortlessly. So why the flip didn't she just do that in the first place?!

So long story short they succeed in getting the bank shares to Wilkins who tries to get around it but is ultimately fired by Mr. Dawes Jr. (Dick Van Dyke). Now if you recall this character was the little smarmy guy with the squeaky voice in the original 1964 movie. The little guy who looked after Mr. Dawes Sr. who was also played by Van Dyke. Well he's now old and in charge of the bank yet curiously he looks identical to his father, literally. I understand why they would cast Van Dyke here but it does, for a moment, confuse matters. I had to think about it because you can't help but ask yourself, how is that old guy from the first movie still alive??

The last part of the movie has all the characters buying balloons from a mysterious magical old lady and they all float off. It's definitely typically Disney but also completely nonsensical and cloying. As for Poppins and Blunt's performance, it was solid, but I didn't like her tone of voice. I mean was it just me or did she come across like a snooty, upper-class, somewhat cold rich bitch? Personally I think Andrews had a much more caring aura about her. And then there was Poppins cringeworthy cousin with a ridiculous name and essentially the most Potter-esque moment in the entire film. Ugh! Terrible sequence.

Don't get me wrong it's not all bad, far from it. The movie looks truly sumptuous! I think this has to be the best looking film I've seen in ages. They recreated Cherry Tree Lane perfectly, down to the last detail, and it's beautiful. 1930's London is also truly stunning in its scope and fairytale-like visuals. There is realism but its also highly romanticised with a gorgeous colour palette. All the costumes are highly detailed, very realistic looking, and again gorgeous looking with the colour palette. The highlight of the movie has to be the animated section which as you might expect showcases Disney at its best. The addition of CGI really boosts this (and everything else) into the stratosphere as you really don't see the join so to speak, totally seamless. Something that did surprise me in all honesty because so many movies abuse CGI these days.

Alas I must go back to being negative again concerning the soundtrack and score. Yep this totally lets the entire movie down big time. It's inescapable I'm afraid. All of the songs are horrible plain and simple. Firstly there are too many and secondly not one of them sticks in your head. I realise its not an easy task to try and compete with the 1964 classic, damn near impossible! But in my opinion they simply failed here, there is nothing more to say on the matter. The songs were awful and unmemorable, whilst the dance sequences unimaginative and boring.

So after all that would I call this a bad film? No I wouldn't. Would I call this a good film? Meh, it's fine. It just about does the job. As I've said I have no idea how accurate this is to the original source material, it might be spot on, I dunno. Visually this is a masterpiece of modern cinema. Yes I kid you not it's incredible looking, a real treat which most kids will adore. As for the rest its totally meh. It's really obvious that they're trying to recapture that lightning in a bottle that was the original classic and they just can't do it. I have to score it over 5 simply for its stunning visuals, I have to. But overall this again feels like something that didn't really need to be made. The original does everything you need and it simply can't be topped.


Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Venom (2018)

Another day, another comicbook movie. When will it end??

So after the somewhat dismal iteration of Venom in 'Spider-Man 3' Sony went back to the drawing board. Initially plans seemed to revolve around having Venom get in on the action in the rebooted 'The Amazing Spider-Man' franchise, but that failed. There were ideas to have Venom kickstart his own franchise which would share the same universe as other Marvel characters. There was also an idea to have Venom in 'Spider-Man: Homecoming'. There was also an idea to have a low budget adult version. Whatever rumours or stories we can all agree that for some reason the powers that be really wanted a Venom movie.

So eventually we got this movie. Whilst on a deep space mission a corporation led by the evil Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) manages to discover a comet covered in symbiotic lifeforms. Bringing four specimens back to Earth one escapes and causes the shuttle to crash which unleashes it. In the meantime Drake starts to experiment on humans, trying to get the aliens to match with a host. The aliens need an oxygen-breathing host to survive.

As you might imagine Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) eventually gets into this corporations HQ (with help from an employee) and is accidentally taken over by one of the symbiotes. We then follow Brock as he adjusts to the alien inside him, Drake and his goons coming after Brock, and eventually the last surviving symbiote taking over Drake resulting in Riot.

Now I'm not up on every Marvel character so I don't know how accurate this movie is to the original source material. I'm guessing there have been many changes. But I do have some large queries. The symbiotes are looking for a planet with hosts they can take over and consume, OK. So what exactly is their plan of action for Earth? Eat every human and...? Then what? Is this all they do?

At the start of the movie we are led to believe that it's hard to find the correct match for the symbiote. Drake is going through loads of human test subjects trying to find a human that will bond with the symbiote. OK that's fine. But at the same time, the symbiote Riot seems to be jumping from human to human no probs at all. Add to that, later on in the movie the symbiote Venom seems to have no problem taking over Brock's ex-girlfriend and a dog. Riot also takes over Drake no problems too. I dunno if I missed something but this just seems inconsistent because we are led to believe that it's hard to find the perfect match for the symbiotes, and when Venom finds Brock it's treated like a shocking breakthrough.

I also found kinda odd that the aliens have names from our human language. I thought (in the comics) Brock came up with the name himself once combined with the symbiote (?). But in this movie the symbiotes seem to already have their names. I also thought Venom changed its mind way too quickly about Earth and humans. The symbiote seems to take the choice of betraying its own very easily purely based on liking Brock. And it had only been combined to Brock for a day or so, maybe not even that! Far too convenient for me.

Aside from that the movie is generally incredibly dated in style and outcome. This really feels like a movie that came out in the 90's. It looks like a movie that came out in the 90's. The CGI ranges from really sweet lookin' to really terrible lookin'. Close-ups of Venom are great, most everything else is bad. Most of the action sequences are woefully bad in both execution and visuals. The stunts are clearly stunts. There are tonnes of obvious greenscreen shots. Venom looks rubbery at times and plastic at others. When Venom fights Riot its an indistinguishable CGI mess. And the bad guys are astronomically cliched. This is the present day 'Spawn'.

Yet despite all that, for some reason, I kinda liked this. I like that they tried to make this somewhat dark and gritty, and for the most part, they succeeded. The start of the movie is quite eerie, playing up some horror tropes. And Hardy definitely helps with his unhinged, dirty, druggie-esque performance. Personally I think they should have gone for broke with an all out R/18 rated flick because the head biting scenes needed to be seen. As they stand its stupid because there's no blood or gore and I'm pretty sure onlookers would be more horrified (the Asian shopkeeper at the end much?).

But yeah, can't quite put my finger on it but I sorta liked this. Kinda reminded me of the trashy mid 90's flicks I'd see at my local Odeon on a Wednesday afternoon. Its not a good movie, its legitimately bad with poor...everything truth be told. Still, in an odd way, this is just...dumb fun.


Friday, 5 April 2019

Dragged Across Concrete (2018)

A movie plot that is, for all intense and purposes, centred around modern media outrage and the 'film everything' culture on mobile phones? Interesting.

OK so it's not entirely based around that. The basis for the main story stems from the fact that people film everything on their smartphones these days; and the fact that things can easily be perverted by media outrage (and social media outrage). Not an entirely new notion over the course of history but it can be argued that in our present day, in this moment of time, both are reaching their zenith. These highly contentious issues play a strong role in the plot of this film.

The Plot: Two cops, Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn) arrest a drug dealer. Unfortunately the duo are filmed whilst doing so and find themselves accused of police brutality (Ridgeman held the suspect down by placing his foot on the back of the suspect's neck). Both are suspended for six weeks with no pay. In order to keep their heads above water financially (for their family purposes mainly) Ridgeman uses the criminal connections he's developed over time as a cop to get info on a possible heist that they can hijack.

The info they get leads them to a potential bank robbery organised by a mysterious man called Vogelman (Thomas Kretschmann). Vogelman's team consists of two other mysterious men who are always masked, and two African Americans, Biscuit (Michael Jai White) and Henry (Tory Kittles). Both Biscuit and Henry are merely hired guns for the heist and so discover Vogelman and his two assistants are highly vicious killers. The heist goes off without a hitch and the team escape...but with both Ridgeman and Lurasetti tailing close behind. 

So when I first heard about this I thought it was going to be a high octane action thriller. I mean look at the two protagonists for heaven's sake! We've got Mel Gibson who's looking more and more like your average blue-collar dad having a grumpy day...but in behind closed doors he's actually a hard as nails badass. And then you've got Vince Vaughn who you know would be the perfect wise-cracking smartass partner in this epic buddy cop action flick. But it so isn't this!

K this is not a bad thing. This movie is actually a slow-burning cop drama noir where we follow the duo around, slowly, as they come to terms with their predicament and then slowly form a plan to rob some robbers. When I say slow I mean slow. Not that this is a boring movie no, but director S.Craig Zahler simply takes his time in building the characters. He allows us to get to know both cops inside out. We get to know what is driving both men, what they need to do and why, and eventually just how good they actually are as cops. These guys are not a pair of bumbling half-wits oh no. Turns out they are damn good cops...that have been forced down a dark route in order to save their humble family lives.

But what's really interesting is the fact that neither of these guys are particularly politically correct and the film does tend to glorify this (to its credit). Ridgeman is an old school cop who doesn't fudge around. He gets things done the way he sees fit and if that upsets social media, well feck em'! It's also Ridgeman who comes up with the idea to track and rob a heist. He is a solid cop, true blue. He knows the score and clearly won't hesitate to get dirty if needs be. Oh and he even smokes...on camera! What kind of apocalyptic doomsday chaos is this?? Will someone please think of the children!

I found myself feeling sorry for the duo (especially Ridegman) when they are suspended for their actions. The film perfectly captures in one scene of dialog how infuriating modern society and social media can be. The fact that some prying member of the public was at their window filming everything, probably for their own social media standing. To gain 'likes' and attention. The fact that the media blew the whole thing up in order to boost their own ratings. Outrage clickbait to mobilise the online SJW outrage mobs. 'the indelicate treatment of a minority who sells drugs to children', a powerful and clearly controversial piece of dialog but one that explains a lot in the context of the movie. Yes Ridgeman stood on the neck of a minority suspect, which is wrong, but lets conveniently overlook what this guy was doing.

Zahler is also brave enough to take on social issues surrounding communities in poor areas. Ridgeman's family live in a poor area of the city with many different people from different backgrounds. A diversity of cultures all packed together tightly. During the film we see Ridgeman's young daughter assaulted by a group of young African American boys. We are told this has happened a few times before (three I think it was). 'you know, I never thought I was racist before living in this area'. 'we really do need to move'. Is what Ridgeman's wife states to him one evening. Again hard dialog but Zahler isn't sugarcoating this drama.

His partner Lurasetti is also a solid cop with a solid work ethic. He technically didn't do anything when Ridgeman assaulted the suspect. Yet he was also suspended and follows Ridgeman down this corrupt path, but not without concern of course. It is Lurasetti who points out the moral issues when the duo follows and watches the gang rob their target bank and people are brutally killed. Ridgeman acknowledges his concerns but stays focused on the goal.

We also get a good in-depth look at the counter character of Henry. His mother is a drug-addicted prostitute and his son is wheelchair bound! So everyone has some major family issues in this film, no one is left out. Henry takes up the gig of being a getaway driver for Vogelman only to earn some money for his family. Alas he gets caught up in a night of betrayal and murder.  As for the bad guys, well they are bad alright. Not as much is known about these gents. The ring leader Vogelman seems to be German I guess (although that's probably because Kretschmann is) and is very Hans Gruber-esque, minus the laughs. He knows exactly what he's doing and appears to be highly precise. His two henchmen remain anonymous throughout. We never see their faces as they are hidden under masks. All we see is their lips, so we know they are caucasian at least. Both are outright maniacs with psychopathic tendencies.

Zahler really delves deep with this film. He doesn't just throw out action sequences with explosions and car chases. Everything is methodical and played out as if it were in real-time. So in the end the big finale isn't a fast shoot-out, it's another slow burn situation where the cops must think about how to defeat their opponents. Essentially a long drawn-out yet highly engaging game of chess in a way. Who will make the first move and will it be the right one? Whilst many scenes are like this in the film it does seem at times like its padding. For instance, we see the masked bad guys rob a small liquor store and a couple of guys in a car. But why? What was the point of those scenes? Just to show us how psychotic they both are? Then we get a subplot surrounding a young woman going back to work after maternity leave (to the bank that gets robbed). Again why did we need that? I understand that it gives us even more character development, an insight into one of the bank workers before the robbery, but ultimately it did seem like padding. Did we really need that?

I could also question what on earth any of these guys would do with all that gold bullion they stole. I can't imagine you could melt it all down easily (I guess), or just sell it without raising lots of questions. Would it be trackable? I get that someone with the right knowledge or contacts might have an idea, but what about the Ridgeman family who get a box of gold right at the end. What the hell are they supposed to do with it??

With all that being said this is a very different animal to what we've been getting recently. It's very slow yet multifaceted, highly detailed, gritty, extremely hard-edged, chock full of explosive dialog...enough to make a liberal faint, and with two archetypal yet highly engaging protagonists (anti-heroes). The violence and gore can be shocking, the bad guys are some of the most merciless we've seen for some time, and there is also a surprisingly strong undercurrent of dark edgy humour. It goes from looking dull to eye-popping in more of an artistic manner and the performances are top notch (Gibson getting better and better with age...somehow, cos he was never this good way back. Whilst Vaughn is now a solid straight actor? What the flip is going on??).

Overall it's good, it's surprisingly very good, but maybe a little overstuffed at times.


Tuesday, 2 April 2019

The Relic (1997)

A movie (based on a novel) where Tom Sizemore is the lead role? The protagonist? The gruff hero? Yep, there was a time when this happened.

The Plot: Now it's easy to think this was essentially a bog standard 'Alien' or 'Jaws' rip-off merely set in a museum. A simple creature feature with a nasty monster running around eating folks one by one. And you would actually be correct. But the story behind this is actually a bit different, if somewhat confusing, I think.

In fact I'll be honest and say I'm still not entirely sure how this story works. Some anthropologist is working out in the South American bush with a local tribe. They give him some kind of drink made from a specific type of leaf which also has some fungus on it. Over time this mixture of leaf and fungus mutates this guy into a huge beastie which eventually ends up at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. It's here that the monster goes off on its rampage eating people's brains. Why brains? Well the leaf (or fungus) contained a hormone similar to that found in humans, specifically in the brain (?). And this monster needs that hormone to survive...and there's you're carnage.

What I'm not entirely sure on is, why did the tribal people give this dangerous drink to the scientist? Did he upset them somehow? He also seemed to understand what would eventually happen to him judging by the start of the movie, but how would he? Was it actually the leaf or the fungus that contained the hormones and caused the mutation? At one point a mutated bug is discovered and we are told it was down to it consuming the leaves. I'm pretty sure we are also told the leaves contain the hormone, so what was the fungus about? The monster is also supposed to eat the leaves to survive. So I'm guessing its a mixture of both leaves and fungus?

The funny thing about this creature feature and all others is the fact that the monster itself never gets full. It goes around killing and eating one person after another nonstop and never once thinks, blimey I'm stuffed! Think I'll go have a lie down for a half hour. Also going back to the whole mutation thing, how does a human mutate into a huge dragon-like monster? Even for a horror fantasy it seems implausible. Like he'd have to grow on a massive scale for a start.

Anyway for the most part this movie is a typical creature feature horror, almost in the same vein as 'Deep Rising' but without the humour. As the monster chomps its way through people in corridors and tight dark spaces it eventually makes its presence known and attacks a large gathering in the main area of the museum. Up to that point the movie is very much in the same vein as a creepy slasher flick. You don't see the monster. All the kills are off-screen but clearly violent. Plus the camera and lighting work is very typical of that genre.

As things start to ramp up the action is more focused, more in your face, and of course you see the monster more and more. The lighting is still strategically used with beams from flashlights, lots of shadows, reflections, roof lights, the odd sparse light here and there. All of which does add tension and atmosphere giving the movie a solid element of quality. They have clearly taken a lot of influence from 'Alien'. But naturally as you see the monster more and more it loses impact. This is primarily because the monster is generally CGI for the full body in motion shots...and it's reasonable. Overall the monster (created by Stan Winston) is solid but too familiar. Winston is great but you can see familiar elements of the Predator in its face. It's basically a large reptilian lion with a Predator's face.

In general the special effects are pretty solid, when they're practical. Having the great Stan Winston at the helm it's hard to go wrong really. Most of the gore revolves around decapitating people, or biting the heads of people. Remember the monster likes a specific part of the human brain so it grabs its victims between its two front pincers (mandibles?) and slowly separates the head from the body. This results in lots of very well done fake heads bouncing around the place. Although there is one quite memorable scene where we get a full-on full frontal, no cuts, decapitation of a victim by the monster. A combination of live-action to CGI which is a little hokey but pretty cool.

Its certainly a highly engaging monster flick it must be said. As said it kinda starts off like a slasher flick. Then slowly moves into a creature feature. Then as the plot progresses and people have to flee the museum through underground tunnels it becomes a disaster flick of sorts (taking heavy influences from 'Aliens'). Yes it's all entirely predictable of course. All the folk trapped inside the museum when the monster attacks (the power fails causing all security to lockdown. Although I'm not sure museums have huge thick steel doors that lock shut like a bank vault) are upper-class elites of society. Its all the aristocrats of Chicago being hosted by the Mayor at a posh exhibition opening shindig.

So naturally you have all the stereotypical uppity assh*les that refuse to listen to advice. The hysterical women, the bigwigs threatening to fire the protagonist's cos basically they can't the dangerous scenario going on around them. It's stupid really, the Mayor threatens to fire Lt. Agosta (Sizemore) because...he messed up the posh shindig I presume. Then one of the leading museum curators (Linda Hunt) fires this other dude in the heat of a situation because he refuses to leave the main area and go into the tunnels. I'm like...what the hell is this?? Who cares about firing people and careers when your life is on the line because a man-eating super-sized dragon thing is on the loose in your museum!

Overall this is most definitely an underrated forgotten gem of a horror/creature feature. Certainly its a bit corny, predictable, cliche, and totally rips-off other classics, but it does with an element of class. Something which is surprising considering the rather lowkey cast line up (Tom Sizemore??). But yeah overall the movie looks terrific. The museum sets are totally believable. The acting is really quite good (again...surprising). And the plot does go from strength to strength. Somehow this rather unoriginal idea manages to keep racking up the tension and keep you glued to your seat. The only downside is the science related mumbo-jumbo crapola which is used to try and explain how this monster came to be. But other than that, yeah its great fun watching this dragon/Predator/Godzilla hybrid gruesomely chomp its way through Chicago's wealthy benefactors.