Friday, 31 May 2019

The Wraith (1986)

A young lad comes back from the dead to take revenge against the ruthless gang (of slightly older lads) that murdered him. There is no crow to help this young man though, no this lad comes back from the dead as a supernatural highly skilled street racer so he can...umm...race the gang members one by one and kill them in bizarre car accidents. You wouldn't think it though as the start of the movie feels more like the arrival of an alien being more than anything. Anyway, really not too sure why he doesn't just come back and simply shoot them or whatever, but the gang are street racers themselves so I guess that explains it, kinda.

So yes, the plot of this movie is your typical revenge thriller. Your typical supernatural tale of an innocent person coming back from the dead to avenge their untimely death at the hands of some baddies. But it is indeed strikingly similar to the bird-related graphic novel that sprouted from the brain of one James O'Barr that's for sure. One has a heavy rock theme whilst the other a heavy car theme. The genesis of O'Barr's supernatural tale started way back in 1981, with the graphic novel eventually coming out in 1989, and finally followed by the movie in 1994. Of course the similar plots could just be coincidental, but it does get you thinking.

Anyway, as I said the very start of this movie is hella cheesy and looks more like the introduction of an alien being landing on a deserted desert highway, in a souped-up car. The effects are of course incredibly 80's lookin', naturally, but boy do they look good. Think of the speedy visuals from 'Tron' but set against a silvery full moon in a desert and finishing with a reveal shot of the mysterious hero clad in an all-black with a racing helmet. The whole sequence is gloriously goofy yet at the same time the epitome of retro coolness.

The Baddies: Now these dudes are a small bunch of (five) young guys, probably in their early 20's, led by one much older guy named Packard (Nick Cassavetes). Not sure if he was actually supposed to be older or that was just down to the fact they cast Cassavetes as a young man in his early 20's when he clearly wasn't. Anyway these guys are, again, the epitome of the classic 80's gang. Nick the leader is a bit of a greaser with his hairstyle and black leather jacket. Whilst his young henchmen are a mix of drugged up punks, weasely rats, and your cliched high school bully type all with silly names. It's an odd blend really because Nick is shown to be quite mentally unhinged and perfectly happy to actually kill people. Whilst his cronies are often more light-hearted, acting as comedic relief being all goofy and dumb. Clint Howard (who looks too old for the part) plays the brains behind the gangs car mods and sports a weird haircut that's straight outta the 1977 film 'Eraserhead'.

The bad guys are an interesting bunch. They mostly seem to be young adults that don't appear to do anything of use. Yet they seem to own this huge garage chock full of mechanical equipment for maintaining cars. We know they take part in crime, petty and serious. And we know they force people to race their souped-up cars and keep them when they win (by cheating). But we only see two of them with some kind of manual labour job, whilst Packard does nothing accept cruise around lookin' for fights, races, and watching his girl. So how do they afford to keep this large garage with all its gear? Do they actually run a service for people? Or do they fix up their victory cars and sell them? How have they not been busted by the cops yet??

The Girl: I did find it amusing that the sweet innocent girlfriend of Packard (Keri played by Sherilyn Fenn) actually continues to go out with him despite the fact he's clearly bad news. Don't get me wrong she knows he's bad news but never really seems too upset over it. She lodges some complaints here and there sure but she never really goes for it. The fact that he constantly threatens her and claims he owns her should really be an alarm bell to get the hell outta that relationship; nah she just protests a bit then carries on. I was like, girl go to the police for God's sake.

The Hero: So Packard and his mates killed this poor kid Jake (Charlie Sheen). Luckily he comes back as a supernatural force to take a supernatural super-powered car. Again don't get me wrong its a super cool concept but...really? Like why does he need the car? If you're able to come back from the dead (or given the powers to do so by a greater force), you don't need a supercar surely. Anyway we know this is just an excuse for fast car racin'. The bad guys steal and race cars so the only way to beat them is race them, apparently. Jake is decked out in an all-black tinted helmet with an all-black jumpsuit which is covered in metal parts which represent other victims. I didn't quite get this, were these parts supposed to represent former victims of Packard's gang?

Another thing I didn't get was what Jake was supposed to be. For starters he comes back from the dead in a different body, he says it was the closest to what he used to look like. But what's going on with that? Why doesn't he come back in his original form/body? Who's body does he come with? Next up, is Jake a ghost or not? At the end Jake and Keri leave town together to start afresh. But is Jake actually alive? Is he a rotting corpse? A ghost? Reborn completely?? Immortal? Invincible?

The Car: The car in question was a Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor. A high-performance supercar designed and built in 1981for demonstration purposes. It most definitely looks the biz in this that's for sure. All black, completely tinted all round, low to the ground, and with a very sleek curvy aerodynamic spaceship design. The car is very effective throughout the movie (much like the DeLorean was for 'Back to the Future') and certainly emits a mysterious, dangerous and speedy quality. Alas the actual races we get are clearly filmed at low speeds which spoils the fun but the sight of this car lining up against some other classic all-American muscle cars is a sight to behold (for petrolheads anyway).

Another aspect the movie seems to hint at is the fact that Packard knows of The Wraith (never called that in the movie I think). When Jake turns up at their garage (in his all-black attire) and shoots up the place, Packard acts as if this has happened before. He doesn't actually seem particularly scared either, as if he's seen this black-clad vigilante before. All in all Packard is as cool as a cucumber when you'd think he'd be terrified like the other guys. So it kinda seems there's a history here which is odd because Jake only turns up in the area at the start of the movie so...what's going on here?

This movie really is the quintessential naff 80's action flick. It has all the ingredients from the wacky villains to the wicked cars to the plot that really doesn't add up when you think about it. But somehow none of that really matters. The supernatural element isn't really that spooky or tense or anything, it's just quirky and fun. The special effects are actually pretty solid. The race and crash sequences are fairly well done in a Saturday morning cartoon kinda way (Pole Position). Sheen's lifeless performance is odd but Cassavetes and his henchmen are clearly enjoying themselves while they chew up the scenery. Whilst Randy Quaid as the local sheriff pretty much plays a character we've seen him do before. If you like comicbook type flicks then you'll like this. In fact it does feel like an update of a 30's pulp comic character, kinda. Highly enjoyable fast food trash.


Saturday, 18 May 2019

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (2018)

This inevitable sequel apparently seems to be an entirely new story which isn't linked to the original, something that took me by surprise. Not that I recall much from the first movie as almost all movies these days are the same garbage over and over, but the original did leave off with that invisible boy writing a new book. So we're not going to see what happens with that then??

Instead this movie takes us on another route to yet another sleepy small all American town with another bunch of kids. Its the usual spiel, two young boys out for adventure, an older sister trying to get into college, the apparent single mother, and the local school bully. It's your bog standard setup all round. Naturally the boys eventually stumble across Slappy the dummy who eventually reveals himself to be alive. At first the boys think this is great but soon discover the dummy is evil. Alas its too late because Slappy is already setting his plan in motion to bring everything Halloween related to life in order to make Halloween forever...just because.

So essentially what we have here is exactly the same story as the first movie (Slappy trying to take over a town), but with a different set of kids. There really doesn't seem to be any proper rhyme or reason to having everything turned into a cheesy Halloween festival, not really sure why Slappy is so obsessed with this idea. I mean, once everything is looking like Halloween town with goofy monsters and trick or treat decorations running around, then what? What is Slappy's endgame here?

This movie is so damn cliched and predictable too. Right from the start when we're seeing the local town with all the various Halloween decorations up everywhere, you know straight away all these things will be coming to life at some point. And sure enough. Not only that but many of these creatures are the same damn creatures from the first movie! We've got the werewolf again, the abominable snowman, the gnomes etc...The only difference this time is they replaced the massive gnome attacks with gummi bears (of which there was only a small toy bucket full of gummi bears, yet when they attack there's like millions of them). But what's more, the visual effects are awful! The CGI throughout this movie is really average to say the least. Not even on par with the first movie.

Everything is as cliche as the Halloween decorations. Yes admittedly this is based on a kids book franchise and yes this is supposed to be for kids, but come on! The cast isn't specifically bad per se but simply safe and unimpressive. It's like this is their first gig after being picked up from some crappy kids cable channel. But it doesn't help when the script gives them the corniest dialog possible and they're doing the most cliche things possible. It's like the writers got their ideas from the big book of movie cliches that have been done a gazillion times before. I mean seriously, the whole school bully angle, Jesus Christ how generic can you be??

The only highlight in this entire cliche-ridden movie is the brief return of Jack Black as R.L. Stine. From the second Black steps up to the camera with his first line of dialog the movie goes up a gear. But this is only temporary as Black flits in and out of the grand finale until its all over (he misses it). The kids save the day and Stine turns out to be of no use after all. I suppose its good that the big Hollywood movie star doesn't save the day but clearly this movie needed more Black. The difference in quality he brings with his comedic acting is as clear as day (loved the 'IT' reference). Big mistake leaving him out.

Spoiler alert! The movie ends on yet another cliffhanger which theoretically should lead into the inevitable third movie. But firstly, they did the same at the end of the first movie and didn't follow that up so...And secondly, this sequel failed at the box office so I'm not sure if we'll see a third.


Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Transporter 2 (FRA, 2005)

Much like his 1998 action car flick 'Taxi' Luc Besson found success with this hitman/car action flick which was somewhat slick but also rather stupid (accept 'Taxi' had no hitman). So naturally just like the Marseille set car romp, this hitman thriller also wound up with a sequel which amped up what came before it ('Taxi' actually went on to have 4 sequels).

So this second entry starts off in exactly the same way as the first movie. Frank Martin (Jason Statham) is seating peacefully in his car waiting for the precise time to start his latest mission. The only difference here is Martin is now sitting in a black Audi A8 (probably for money/sponsorship reasons). Cometh the hour cometh the man, accept this time Martin is stopped in his tracks by a hot female dressed in a skimpy schoolgirl outfit (mmmmm). Turns out Martin is just about to be carjacked by a gang of African American males...and their white female accomplice? So long story short, Martin obviously beats the shit outta these guys and calmly carries on with his latest mission. 

This one scene pretty much tells you everything you need to know about this new entry. The action will be more exuberant and heavy hitting, whilst inexplicably strewn with females in ridiculously skimpy outfits for no real reason. There was absolutely no reason whatsoever to have that hot chick in the schoolgirl outfit other than giving the male audience (and director presumably) a boner. Cos why would this gang need her? Do they really need her to carjack one man? (there were 4 of them). Look I'm no PC prude believe me, but I'm just pointing out the obvious in this movie (and it gets worse).

Indeed the characters of the movie do get more ridiculous. The main bad guy Chellini is played by Italian actor Alessandro Gassman, and he does he solid job. But is it just me or does this guy look identical to Benicio del Toro?? I just couldn't help but feel that maybe, just maybe, they wanted del Toro and couldn't get him, so they hired a lookalike. But then we have the real coup de grâce, the villainess Lola played by Kate Nauta. Now this femme fatale is beautiful and there's nothing wrong with highlighting that don't get wrong; but she literally spends the entire film's runtime in her underwear I kid you not. And boy does the director get the cameraman to make the most of her ass, lips, legs, and feet in heels from every angle possible. It gets to a point where you think you're watching one of those soft porn 'girls n guns' type videos where sexy girls in bikinis simply fire guns (so I've heard, ahem!).

As I've said the action is ramped up in this sequel, ramped up to 11! Naturally Martin is an invincible superman who cannot be beaten or injured (like all Statham flicks). So there's no real tension anywhere to be found. This time he manages to spot a bomb on the underneath of his Audi via a puddle. He then proceeds to knock it off via launching the car into midair whilst flipping it so the underside strikes a crane which tears off the bomb. Oh and Lola shoots at a helicopter with her machine gun which causes it to explode. Yeah, that actually happens.

But one of the most idiotic parts of the movie is a simple plot device. That being, the really pathetic way in which they bring a character from the first movie back for this second movie...and it's pointless. Yep in this movie Inspector Tarconi (François Berléand) is back because he's come to the US to visit Frank for his holiday. Really? There is absolutely no reason for this character to come back in this sequel other than for face recognition. He serves no purpose to the movies continuity because of the different setting and he serves no real purpose to the plot. Take him out and replace him with someone else or not a tall. I mean, good for the actor, not wanting to deny him work but its such a typical lame move in so many movies.

I honestly didn't like this movie much because it bears no proper resemblance to the original concept in the first movie which was also lost very quickly. Its like Besson had a reasonably decent idea for a semi-serious gritty action thriller...and proceeded to ruin it with outlandish ideas. And those outlandish ideas just got more and more outlandish to the point of farcical. The inspiration for this franchise is pretty clear with the action, cars, and sexy women, but the overall execution is sloppy. The final action sequence with the jet showcases that sloppiness perfectly with the shocking CGI. It all ends up looking like a videogame cut-sequence, funnily enough much like many of Statham's action movies. Lots of style (and underwear) but very little substance.


Friday, 10 May 2019

The Transporter (FRA, 2002)

Written and produced by iconic French action director Luc Besson, this was his second attempt to bring Asian action to the mainstream in Europe (and kinda crack into the US on a personal level). Yes Asian action was no secret back then (although it wasn't huge outside of Asia) but this was Asian action with French flair.

The story is pretty simple. Ex-military man Frank Martin (Jason Statham) is a transporter, a transporter of anything no questions asked. He has three rules; no names, no alterations to the deal, and don't look inside the package. Whilst delivering a package he notices it moving. Eventually, after much deep thought, he opens the package and discovers a bound and gagged female. He is somewhat shocked but carries on with his delivery.

Upon delivering the package to the client he is offered another job. Midway through this job the package explodes and almost kills him. The client, a Mr. Bettencourt (Matt Schulze) tricked him and tried to whack him because Martin broke the rules, he opened the package (kinda understandable actually). This obviously forces Martin to return to Bettencourt's estate and take vengeance by killing some of his men and stealing a car. Alas the car has the bound and gagged female inside. Martin must now protect himself and the woman who has also revealed that Bettencourt is trafficking people, so there's that too.

Now, this movie was never very original, not by a long shot. The fact that Besson was involved helped as he was seen as more of a cult director at the time. The Asian action blend and influence from director Corey Yuen was seen as fresh at the time. And Statham drew intrigue because here was an action man who wasn't your standard handsome A-list movie star with big muscles; he was British and looked and sounded more like a villain...with muscles.

With that being said there is enough to like here for sure. The first half of this movie is easily the better half as we are given a very likeable action thriller that is clearly very Besson-esque. We meet Martin who is a disciplined, calm and collected, suit-wearing professional who only speaks when necessary. He drives a souped-up, high spec, black BMW which he drives like a badass, but again only when required. The plot is basic but engaging and the action is swift and brutal but believable. It is only once Martin inadvertently saves the girl that things start to go downhill with silliness.

For a start it takes an age before we actually find out why this female (Lai played by Shu Qi) has been kidnapped, which is stupid. When she is picked up by Martin she has no real idea who he is and if he's trustworthy, yet she never really tries to escape. Hell, even when Martin takes her back to his place she still doesn't try to escape! I mean, this guy could be planning to rape and kill her, but she ends up totally trusting him, covering for him when the police show up, and even making him food! She basically gets all cozy with Martin without even knowing him or what his plans are and considering her situation, it's weird.

Things get even more out of hand when the bad guys show up in the middle of the day armed to the teeth with guns and rocket launchers and destroy Martin's residence. All this in clear view of anyone, but nothing happens and no police are called. Luckily Martin has yet another luxurious residence not too far away (of course) so it's all good. And the female he rescued (who is kinda his captive now) offers sex to make up for all the trouble she's caused, because of course she does. The really odd thing though is Lai trusts and helps Martin so much throughout the movie, but when it comes to a point when Martin really does need her verbal assistance with a confrontation between the police and the bad guys, she doesn't say a word!

I must also point out the quite terrible musical score throughout this picture. An odd blend of your typical action themes with soft orchestral moments which feel completely out of place for the most part. It really is quite weird because at times it makes the movie feel like a low budget production, like it's been tacked on because they had nothing else to use.

Anyone who knows Luc Besson will know this movie and just what to expect. We all know Besson has a hitman/hitwoman fetish and since his 1990 offering 'Nikita' has essentially done the same thing time and time again switching between male and female leads. Although 'The Transporter' is nowhere near as solid in overall quality as his earlier hitman flicks (the other being 'Leon' in 1994), this first offering does still have plenty to enjoy. It's just a shame that the movie slowly degenerates into a stupid mess which was eventually doubled down on with the even stupider sequels.


Wednesday, 1 May 2019

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)

And we're back following on from the first hit movie based on the popular childhood toy Lego.

The movie continues from where it left off at the conclusion of the first movie. After discovering the Lego universe was in fact the concoction of Finn's imagination whilst playing, his little sister Bianca comes along to join in on the fun. Within the Lego world this is represented by the arrival of Duplo built aliens. The aliens quickly destroy Bricksburg reducing it to an apocalyptic wreck. In the real world this translates to Bianca taking some Lego down to the basement to play with in order to get away from Finn.

The adventure that follows revolves around a few of the main characters (Batman, Lucy, Benny, and Unikitty) getting kidnapped by an unknown force and taken to the Systar System. There Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi wants to marry Batman and seemingly keep the others in a state of happiness and temptation. It's up to Emmet to try and save his friends with the help of a new found friend in Rex Dangervest.

So I guess the most interesting part of this movie is the way they represent the real world through the actions of the Lego world, and vice versa. Obviously we all know this from the first movie but that element becomes a much stronger feature from the midway part of this movie. Basically we find out that certain places in the Lego world are actually jumbled wording for things in reality like the washer dryer and the area beneath it, or the basement, or the kid's mother (which turns out to be a vision of armageddon for the Lego world). Whilst I did kinda like this aspect of the story (in a kind of Rugrats sort of way), I didn't really like how the real world becomes a much larger part of the overall story.

By that I mean this movie is supposed to be about a fantasy world of Lego primarily. OK it's based around a kids imagination but that's OK if used sparingly. But they use this far too much towards the end and you just lose all sense of the Lego fantasy because the real world just takes you out of it (or did for me anyway). It's like the first half is a Lego fantasy flick whilst the second half actually becomes more like Toy Story but with Lego (and not CGI animation). Now this is a good idea...but for another movie! This feels like two ideas crashing into each other and one wipes the other out.

And that leads me to the movie as a whole, its one huge big giant mess. The original movie had a lot set within the Lego city of Bricksburg which was fine. There were also many other crazy elements tossed in there from lots of other franchises, which was fine. But in this sequel its exactly the same shit but like loaded up on cocaine. Its the most bat-shit crazy hodgepodge of ideas I've seen for some time. They throw literally everything they can think of at the wall to see what sticks, and frankly, it's so off the wall nuts not much of it does. The humour falls flat all the time, the ideas are all old hat (been there done that from the first movie), and the story is wafer thin.

Bottom line it's all about Finn and Bianca coming together, stopping their squabbling and playing friendly. That is literally it, the whole plot about certain characters getting kidnapped just feels like a waste of time. Yeah it all represents the two kids feuding and eventually reuniting but its hella weak. The point where their mother gets fed up and tells them to pack all their Lego away is just odd because what parent would tell their kids to box up all their toys and put them in storage as a punishment?? Yeah the parent might confiscate the toys for a while but box it up for storage? It's also that boxing that represents the armageddon in the Lego world.

Don't get me wrong the movie is visually very impressive as you would expect and seeing the various Lego pieces is always a nostalgic joy. But at the end of the day this really feels like they had no real idea where to go with the story and just chucked a load of random things into the blender. The movie is itself much like a young child's Lego creation, a colourful unusual hybrid of anything and everything stuck together. Obviously that is the basic idea but I really feel this just ran out of steam about five minutes in. Seeing the Mad Max inspired post-apocalyptic Bricksburg was cool, after that its essentially exactly the same as before but duller and more bizarre.

Not even a Lego version of Chris Pratt sending up all his previous movie characters by rolling them into one character could save this I'm afraid. Yes, even that brazen rugged good-looking type action hero character has been done to death both comically and seriously.