Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Three Amigos (1986)

























By simply reading this premise on paper it could well come across as utterly ludicrous, just a totally off the wall mess. Three of the 80's best and wackiest (white) comedians as gunslinging, Mexican/Hispanic inspired cowboys that do battle against Mexican bandits. I mean...my God! Can you imagine the outrage if this was released today! Holy spitballs!

The plot: This idea has been around for a long long time. Its been used a good many times and still pops up from time to time. The Three Amigos are famous movie stars of the silent, non talkie pictures era (1916). They generally make heroic pictures that involve stopping dastardly, moustache twirling bandits that threaten small villages. Meanwhile in Mexico a real village is being controlled and extorted by a local gang led by the infamous El Guapo. One of the villagers sees a movie of the Amigos and believes they are real, so she sends a telegram calling for their help. The Amigos, thinking the whole thing is just another gig for them, decide to take the job and head down south. Eventually, after a warm reception from the locals, its time for the Three Amigos to face El Guapo and his men. Could this end up being the Amigos greatest performance? Or their last?

I gotta be honest here but for a generally average to small sized movie (I think), just a silly spoofy comedy, this movie looks fantastic! The opening sequence showcasing a small black and white reel of an Amigo movie, really does look terrific. They really capture that early 1900's vibe with the heavy makeup on the actors, the film being slightly sped up, the snappy random editing, and of course the dialog intertitles with the fancy decoration. This short little intro for the main protagonists sets up the entire movie, and the characters, perfectly. We then move onto the studio back lot (somewhere in Hollywood) and again it all looks really authentic with those very old wagon-esque automobiles dotted around, the sandy dusty ground, the large billboards, the costumes etc...



Overall the movie is highly effective in conveying the various locations from early Hollywood, the deserts of Mexico, and El Guapo's Mexican fortress. Well, for me at least, being a Brit. Maybe for an American who knows California it might all look a bit familiar, seeing as scenes in Mexico weren't actually filmed in Mexico, but in California.

But its of no surprise that this movie is all about the cast, the main trio. And what can I say? Its damn near perfect comedy casting, three of the greatest comedians in movie history, Chase, Martin and Short (Short the lesser of the three). But the funny thing is, back in the 80's we were spoilt for choice with these now classic comedians. Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, John Belushi, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Gene Wilder, Eddie Murphy etc...Just think about it for a minute, you could of easily teamed up any one of these legends and this premise would have still worked flawlessly. The era was perfect, the talent was perfect, the story was perfect, the writing was perfect, and overall it was perfectly directed by John Landis. Pure unadulterated lightning in a bottle.

'We have a plan. First we break into El Guapo's fortress...'

'...and then??'

'Well, we really didn't expect the first part to work so we have no further plan'

Quick shout out to the added bonus of Joe Mantegna as the studio boss Harry Flugleman. With Phil Hartman and Jon Lovitz as his personal lackeys. Again amazing casting, even in the small cameo roles. Its actually such a shame we don't see more of these characters because they looked great; you can see the potential for more great scenes from these guys.

Naturally the cast indicates the type of humour to expect (folks over a certain age will know), and that would be pure lunacy epically delivered. In general the comedy includes slapstick, clever camera trickery, stunts, wordplay and simple spoofing of the genre. Each cast member clearly had their own schtick based around their own individual style which they incorporated into their character. Lucky Day (Steve Martin) is the more intelligent, well-rounded leader of the Amigos. He's somewhat brave and does all the talking/negotiating. Dusty Bottoms (Chevy Chase) is probably the least intelligent Amigo, a bit simple perhaps, easily led astray. He's a bit of a ladies man, a bit flashy and brash, but also a bit of a sycophant and creep. He's also the most cowardly. Ned Nederlander (Martin Short) is probably the bravest of the trio and the dark horse; he often manages to surprise his compadres with hidden talents.



There are so many small nuggets of comedy gold throughout this movie its impossible to do it justice right here. But take it from me, aside from the more outrageously obvious laughs, there are plenty of tiny facial expressions, poses, quips, and winks that will make you grin from ear to ear. The moment the trio are breaking into El Guapo's fortress by scaling the walls. They reach the other side just as two guards walk by. The trio literally freeze where they stand despite being in full view; the guards just walk by without noticing a thing. The way the trio act towards El Guapo thinking its all an act, then start to cry when they realise its real. Then at one point a plane flies overhead, Dusty asks 'what's it doing here?'. Ned replies 'I think its a mail plane', Dusty replies 'How can you tell??'. Ned responds 'well didn't you notice its little balls?'.

Aside from the outlandish comedy on display the movie isn't perfect, you still find yourself asking questions. Like why is there an invisible swordsman? What's his story?? Where exactly did the trio get the instructions that led them to the singing bush and the invisible swordsman? Why is there a singing bush? The singing bush is terribly fake looking, doesn't even match the scenery. Why do the Mexican bandits constantly fire their guns in the air?? Doesn't that waste bullets?? Lucky got shot...what happened to that??! Where did they get all the correct material from to make so many Amigo outfits in the finale? What exactly does El Guapo get out of this tiny village?? Him and his men never seem to do anything. Lucky gets shot in the foot...what happened to that?? On the very (presumably deliberate) obvious desert night time set, why does the tortoise speak? In the end, after saving the village, the Amigos refuse the monetary reward and ride off into the sunset. But where to? they have no money, just like at the start of their adventure, so what exactly are they gonna do?

Of course many of these questions just don't matter because the movie isn't supposed to be looked at in such depth, its just a very light-hearted spoof-esque comedy. The overall balance between the characters is absolutely perfect. Each cast member gets their time to shine with gags they may well have thought up themselves, but often feature all three. The villains and village folk appear to be actually played by real Mexican actors, or at least look like or come from Hispanic countries. Something which is actually quite surprising (the SJW's would approve I'm sure, maybe). The movie is very bright, breezy and colourful with moments for both youngsters and adults alike, but its the cheeky wit that is so alluring. The real mystery is how this movie continually seems to be overlooked and forgotten.

9/10

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Longest Yard (2005)
















So as you can tell from the title this is a modern (for the time) remake of the Burt Reynolds vehicle of the same name. And when I say its a remake I mean its literally a scene for scene remake, but now a vehicle for Adam Sandler. The plot is identical to the original movie which sees Paul Crewe (Sandler) going to jail after assaulting his rich girlfriend and then going off on a joyride in her expensive car.

Upon arrival in the big house Crewe is pressured/blackmailed into coaching the jail football team by the warden; but eventually ends up organising a training game between the convicts and guards. Crewe must battle his inner demons, pride and dignity versus cowing down to the warden for a safe but cowardly existence. Of course not much of that is translated across into this because its an Adam Sandler movie. Cue lots of immature toilet humour and sexual innuendos.

The first thing that really doesn't work in this movie is the plot opener. We find Crewe with his rich girlfriend, living in her luxurious pad. Said girlfriend is an uncredited cameo by Courtney Cox who looks unbelievable gorgeous I kid you not. She basically explains to Crewe that she owns him, he is her toy, as long as he obeys...his life will be very comfortable. Who in their right mind would say no to this??!! And before you think about it, you all need to see Cox and the outfit she's in. No bloke would walk away from this scenario, I'd be on my knees begging to be leashed and collared! So straight away I'm thinking this character is an idiot for throwing this away (the hot girl and her assets).

The next problem I had with this is Sandler and the fact he's just not believable as an ex-pro footballer. Admittedly Reynolds wasn't overly convincing to look at either but at least he looked relatively fit. But that's just a minor issue really, the real issue (as mentioned above) is the fact that this movie loses all the heart, soul and grit of the original. The 1974 movie was three things: an acceptable comedy, a hard and surprisingly dark prison drama, and a reasonably gritty sports flick. This new movie is a cheap slapstick riddled spoof, chock full of profanity and cameos mugging for the camera. The prison setting is merely an excuse for lots of cliched predictable prison related sight gags and nothing more. There is no real tension or drama, that aspect has been totally jettisoned. And despite the sports side of things being much glossier and slickly shot, it doesn't hold a candle to the original movie.



Its actually incredible to see the difference between the two movies when it comes down to the football side of things. In the original movie the game was very down to earth, nothing fancy. A brutal game of football in a very basic looking arena with no frills, it was believable. In this remake the game looks like something from the flippin' NFL! The arena is huge with all the modern perks, the pitch is perfect, massive crowds, sexy cheerleaders, all very glamorous. Clearly this prison has some money apparently. I admit I don't know much about American football being British, I do know American universities and colleges do have amazing sports facilities that far outstrip anything similar in the UK. But would a US prison have such sports facilities?

As for the cast, well naturally you have double the big name cameos of the original, both sports and entertainment wise. Sports wise there are quite a few big football names in here, never heard of them myself so I'll just leave it there. Entertainment wise there are some cool additions such as one time action man (and footballer) Brian Bosworth. David Patrick Kelly is perfect as the weaselly snitch Unger, but criminally underused. Quentin Tarantino collaborator Eddie Bunker just about manages his role (he looked pretty old). And Crewe's right-hand man 'Caretaker' is played by Chris Rock; who spends most of his screen time making jokes about white boys because apparently that's all he can do.

Cloris Leachman, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, William Fichtner, Dalip Singh (dude his HUGE), Rob Schneider makes his usual pointless Sandler movie cameo, and James Cromwell adds gravitas as warden Hazen. Lastly Reynolds plays Nate Scarborough in a cringeworthy performance that isn't helped by the fact his ancient character steps in to play as a replacement and manages to score a touchdown. Because of course he does. I can't single out any one cast member though seeing as they were all pretty terrible. Twas like watching amateur dramatics half the time.

All in all this entire venture just seemed pointless. A chance for Sandler to mess around with his mates and call it work, and Reynolds needing work. What makes it so painful is the fact they've totally missed the point of the original movie by cutting the actual drama. Yeah there is some funny visual stuff sure, but you balance that with gritty tension of the prison setting. The only part they kinda got right was the death of Caretaker, but cutting back into infantile humour so quickly just destroys any emotional impact. Maybe if they hadn't aimed this at the moronic teenage MTV crowd (obligatory rap soundtrack...ugh!) it could of been half decent. But even then what's the point when the original captured it all so perfectly. And that's where I'm gonna end this, stick to the original.

4.5/10

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Longest Yard (1974)





















This is one of the originals people, a movie that influenced a whole host of other sports movies and has seen a fair few remakes to boot. This movie really had everything, a (now) stereotypical sophomoric sports yarn and a grim and brutal prison drama. Add to that the rapidly rising Hollywood star Burt Reynolds who actually shaves off his famous moustache.

We all know the story here I'm sure, but just in case. Paul 'Wrecking' Crewe (Reynolds) is an ex-football star living with a wealthy woman who uses the him for sex (he's a gigolo). One day they have a bit of a tiff and Paul storms off. He nicks her fast car and goes on a drink influenced joyride. Once the police catch up with him he insults them and gets into a scuffle which results in him being arrested. This whole ordeal winds Paul up in the clink for 18 months. Once in jail Paul soon realises that all the cons dislike him because he had it all and blew it (referring to his wealth and the fact he was dismissed from the National Football League for pints shaving). At the same time Paul is forced into agreeing to coach the prison warden's semi-pro football team. But first Warden Hazen (Eddie Albert) suggests that Paul create a team of convicts to give his prison guard team a warm up game. Without knowing it, this becomes Paul's lifeline and the warden's eventual downfall.

There is most definitely a dated quality to this movie (key word being dated), but at the same time its an uneven movie. There are so many elements here you never really know what to think or how to feel. Take the start of the movie where we see Crewe in bed with his wealthy bird. She wants sex, hot steamy sex and she wants it yesterday. Alas Crewe isn't in the mood for hot steamy sex (the bloody fool) and he gets frustrated with her advances. This leads to the pair having a fight which is actually quite rough; at one point Crewe grabs the woman's face and throws her to the ground. I was like, Jesus dude!



After that Crewe takes off in her car, a rather shitty looking Citroën SM (apparently high performance). The police take chase and now we have a typical Burt Reynolds car chase sequence choreographed by none other than Hal Needham. So essentially what you have is a fast, slick sequence with plenty of neat stunts that wouldn't look outta place in all of the other Reynolds/Needham collaborations. Its by no means the best car chase in the world (especially with that Citroën) but it does the job. We then have a short scene where Reynolds does his Bandit thing in insulting some cops, followed by a dust up. So from a very awkward and nasty fight with a female to a light-hearted car chase and comedy routine; from one extreme to the other.

The extremes continue once our protagonist reaches his final destination within a Florida prison. Being a 70's movie and shot within the grounds of a real prison, things come across as pretty bleak for the most part. On the visual side of things it looks like a blaxploitation movie inside the joint. All the cons are self-segregated into gangs, the white guys not looking very intimidating with regular physiques (apart from the odd one or two). Whilst the black guys range from very intimidating with large physiques to super-fly looking with large sideburns and fro's. There's a lot of tension between the inmate gangs and guards at all times, you're never sure when a scene will break out into a full blown riot. This atmosphere is handled very well by director Robert Aldrich. He manages to balance the sadistic killing of one inmate, along with outright torture and racism; with silly moments of raucous comedy (bordering on slapstick).

The guards are of course a mean racist bunch that don't hesitate to use the 'n' word against the African American cons. Whilst on the other hand they are perfectly happy screwing over the white cons. Naturally the obvious difference between the white and black cons are overcome when the guards go too far verbally abusing one lone black inmate. Its all a bit predictable and cliched but it needed to be there. This is just the first of a number of scenes where the cons come together as one.

But amongst all this hard-hitting racial tension, grisly murder and conflict against the brutal guards, comedy shines through. As Crewe recruits inmates for his team we meet all the various stereotypical characters in the jail. You've got the hulking Richard Kiel as the aptly named Samson (who acts like a child). James Hampton as Caretaker, the brains behind everything Crewe wants to do. Pop (John Steadman) is the really old inmate who's been in jail almost all his life. Robert Tessier plays the one solitary inmate everyone is terrified of. A prisoner called 'The Indian', no guesses for what his hook is. Harry Caesar as Granville, the strong sensible black inmate leader who is the first to join with Crewe. Michael Conrad as Nate Scarboro, one of the older sensible inmates. And Charles Tyner as the highly effective and deeply creepy Unger, the sniveling and dangerous snitch. Plus various other stereotypical inmate and guard characters.

Naturally the inmates are all terrible at first but after a good training montage and various humorous scenes they get better. Before you know it, its game day and the big finale. Being British I can't really comment on how accurate this part of the movie is as I have no knowledge of American football. But its clearly very well done, very effective and pretty realistic looking if you ask me. Again I don't know for sure but the use of split screen by Aldrich might be a first (?). It looks a bit hokey now but it sure does keep the action flowing. And of course you can't not have slow motion in a sports flick for those last minute deus ex machina moments of glory.

Much like the rest of the movie everything you see in the game is now rather cliched and predictable (I use these words too much). Its not bad but you know what's gonna happen here, lots of inmates stomping the feck outta the guards for cheap gags. The guards getting off to a winning start, the cons losing faith...then coming back. The warden blackmailing Crewe to lose, Crewe then fighting his inner demons as he fakes an injury. The cons looking like they're about to lose, but then Crewe comes back in and saves the day. Hurray!!

What's just so surprising is the fact that despite all the silly hijinks, all the moments of juvenile lunacy, Aldrich still manages to cram in amazing levels of gritty drama. The final sequence where hardened guard Captain Knauer (Ed Lauter) is put under immense pressure to shoot Crewe because Hazen thinks he's trying to escape (and he's pissed at the fact Crewe ignored him and won the game), is a fantastic last moment of high tension. The reason being you could quite easily see it going either way as the movie isn't all smiles and rainbows.

Overall this still can't hide the fact this movie is a very mixed bag with parts that are well done but ultimately kinda mismatched. It really does feel like there are two movies here, a stupid sports comedy that borders on a spoof, and a gritty emotional prison drama. Don't get me wrong I think Aldrich does well and makes the two ideas work, but it never feels quite right. Bottom line its essentially a (good) Reynolds vehicle that pretty much summed up his career. Both the steely eyed, serious tough guy; and the goofball mugging for the camera.

7/10

Sunday, 1 October 2017

White Lightning (1973)


























Willie Mayes Hayes is Black Hammer! Jesse 'The Body' Ventura is White Lightning! Together they're taking on the mob...oh shit wrong film! Wait, its not even an actual film.

Back in his early days of acting good old boy Burt Reynolds was definitely more of a serious actor. Yes much of his work was still based around comedies but they still had drama included. 'White Lightning' was one of Reynolds last movies to showcase him as a more serious character actor before he started to slip into more frivolous roles which seemed like spoofs more than anything. Essentially this was a Burt Reynolds movie where we didn't see him mugging for the camera or messing around with his other A-list star buddies.

I'm honesty not really sure how Reynolds became this icon of the south (being born in Michigan), but yet again his character here is a typical good ol' boy criminal type serving time for running moonshine. His name is Bobby 'Gator' McKlusky...because that's a really cool southern sounding name obviously. Whilst serving time (for runnin' moonshine) Gator's brother is murdered by a corrupt local sheriff. Knowing that this sheriff is taking money from other illegal moonshiners, Gator agrees to go undercover for the Department of Justice to bring him in. Of course Gator isn't interested in bringing the sheriff in, he wants revenge. Anywho that's it, that's the plot, you can guess how it unfolds I'm sure.



Being a movie genuinely filmed in the south during the early 70's everything does look generally grim. Many of the cars we see are rust buckets, the local towns look a bit squalid in places, the locals look quite poor, building interiors are plain and basic, and the prison looks like something outta 'Papillon' (I exaggerate somewhat of course). But next to that you also have the more upbeat side to the south we recall from the movies, such as pool halls, bars, muscle cars, big rigs, stetsons and young easy women in cut-off jeans.

In an Arkansas prison is where we find Gator as he is informed his brother has been killed. Right there and then Gator decides to escape...and does just that! No seriously, he literally walks off and simply climbs a few fences and runs off! What the hell kind of prison is this?? He does of course get captured quite quickly, luckily he's friends with the warden so its kinda overlooked. They basically blackmail him into going undercover, but in a friendly way.

From here we follow Gator as he slowly makes his rounds gathering information. This essentially means visiting many local establishments and trying to charm the hicks into dishing the dirt. Gator must also try and sneak himself into the moonshine runnin' game, a difficult task to be sure. This in itself offers up a wide array of stereotypical southern hillbilly types that generally look unwashed in their grubby sweat stained attire. Eventually Gator does manage to hook up with Roy (Bo Hopkins) to run moonshine; and at the same time get involved in a curious love triangle between Bo and his girlfriend Lou (Jennifer Billingsley). Not really sure why this is, I'm guessing to simply give Reynolds a love interest.



Naturally being an early Reynolds movie you can expect car chases. Yep before he was runnin' with beer as the Bandit he was runnin' with moonshine as the Gator. Unfortunately these car chases are nowhere near as good as the Bandit's wheel spinnin' antics. One car chase sees Gator confusing, shaking and avoiding the cops through the town in his very brown 1971 Ford Custom 500. This is a reasonable car chase that will kinda satisfy you. It ends with Hal Needham ('Smokey and the Bandit' and 'The Cannonball Run') jumping the car onto a moving barge which almost failed (but they kept it in). There are plenty of other vehicular tidbits throughout including the obligatory track event but nothing to wow you.

Although the cars are a major part of this movie, characters in their own right and of historical interest, if you're a petrolhead this movie isn't gonna do it for you methinks. It merely offers a glimpse of what was to come with Reynolds and co. Overall this movie is generally pretty dull truth be told, nothing much really happens as you watch Gator plod through the sweltering heat of the south. Ned Beatty is definitely a solid villain as the corrupt Sheriff J.C. Connors and almost makes up for a lack of engagement. He is certainly intimidating with his large appearance, bad teeth and receding hairline (deliberately shaved that way). He almost looks like a Nazi Officer with those round spectacles, but alas he does little. On the flip side, there is a decent sequence where Gator visits his parents. There he must face his fathers disapproval of him handing over names of folk involved in illegal liquor to the Feds.

The opening sequence of the movie shows Sheriff Connors slowly rowing out into the middle of an isolated swamp, either at dusk or early dawn. Behind him is Gator's brother bound and gagged in another small boat. They reach a point and stop. The sheriff then shoots the bottom of the boat with a shotgun and rows away leaving the restrained young man to slowly drown as the boat sinks. This sequence is dark, sinister, brutal and most definitely has a 'Deliverance' vibe about it (the landscapes are definitely another form of character in this movie). The thing is its in complete contrast to the rest of the movie which at times feels like a slightly adult version of The Dukes of Hazzard or 'Smokey and the Bandit'. A strange blend of tones in this movie for sure, a bit hit and miss.

4.5/10

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992)

























After the first (successful) movie surrounding shrinkage, and being heavily influenced by some classic sci-fi flicks of the 50's, it was inevitable that we'd see this. Again heavily influenced by some classic black and white sci-fi movies of the 50's, we now find the Szalinskis' with a bigger problem. Yep its basically 'Attack of the 50 Foot Baby' or another 'King Kong' clone/homage.

The plot: Well the title says it all really. Oh OK, set five years after the tiny events of the first movie, the Szalinskis' now live in Nevada. They have a new two year old son called Adam, Nick is now a teenager and Amy has gone to college. Funnily enough Wayne (Rick Moranis) is now working on a ray gun that will increase the size of objects. On a routine trip to his work space at Sterling Labs, little Adam is accidentally zapped with the ray but nothing seems to happen. Later on at home Adam is exposed to electrical waves from the microwave which appear to trigger the enlargement process. Slowly Adam begins to gradually grow bigger and bigger; Wayne and Nick must now try to reverse the process before Adam becomes a danger to himself and others.

So again the main draw here are the effects, the big breezy colourful effects. How do they stand up? Well not too well really. OK lets start positive, there are numerous sequences where it appears that they used someone in a large bodysuit. In some scenes we see live action shots Moranis with a live action giant toddler, but if you look closely this does appear to be a very good bodysuit on an obviously tall person. These shots are always from behind the large toddler so as not to give the game away but they are very effective. This showcases the innovation of the effects crew which unfortunately could only go so far. Other than the usual oversized and undersized props, which are always highly effective if sometimes a bit rubbery looking, much of this movie has to rely on bluescreen and rear projection.



And this is where the movie really falls down, the terrible terrible bluescreen/rear projection effects. The bulk of the effects are unfortunately reliant on these techniques and alas it all stands out like a sore thumb. There are clear brightness differences between the live action in the foreground and projected background. Thick black lines outline much of the effects and the colours are faded throughout. Overall the effect is just way too obvious and really takes you out of the movie. Heck even some of the large sets are bad looking, when Nick and his young female counterpart are riding in Adams oversized pocket, it just looks poor. There are some nice touches of forced perspective in a few shots but again you can see right through them. Don't get me wrong I give them an A for effort but clearly the effects team needed more money or skills, many movies came out before this and looked way better.

Other than the effects there isn't a great deal on offer here frankly. The plot sees a cliched company villain (John Shea) going after the oversized Adam for his own nefarious dastardly deeds (still not entirely sure why he gets fired by Sterling, for being mean?). This inevitably brings about the inevitable 'King Kong' homages as they use helicopters to try and tranquilise Adam. Lloyd Bridges pops up as Clifford Sterling, president of the Sterling company, a company that does...scientific type stuff. Obviously Bridges brings his own brand of spoof-esque humour which is fine but a bit childish, yeah I know its a kids flick but still. Moranis brings home his lovable nerdy Louis Tulley-esque character again; complete with more outrageous inventions which are admittedly pleasing to the eye. Nothing new really, they reverse or mirror some scenes and dialog from the first movie.



The movie ends in Vegas which generally looks horrendous from start to finish effects wise. The movie also becomes very stupid as they apparently evacuate the Las Vegas strip in around five minutes. They also manage to coordinate getting all the lights switched off down the strip in five minutes, like all of them! No one gets hurt, nothing gets damaged, and the way they placate Adam is vomit inducing. I guess its all understandable seeing as its essentially a kids movie but its still very lame, lazy and dull.

Doesn't help that the kid they use for the role of Adam is just kinda annoying, but that's just me. I think the problem here is the over use of an idea, the Kong sized threat. Add to that the fact its a giant toddler which isn't particularly interesting or threatening, and of course the fact the first movie used a less common theme which was executed way better. Overall its all adds up to a relatively fun movie with the odd decent moment. Its just fails to capture the magic of the first movie; in this case miniature things are more fun I think.

5/10

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)

























Could there be anything more cliched and corny than the idea of a weedy, crazy haired, spectacled, crazy inventor type nerd who's wacky creation gets out of hand? Probably not, but that didn't stop this idea becoming something of a monster hit back in the late 80's. I remember the time well, this movie was almost like the Jurassic Park of the day with everyone going nuts over the special effects and innovation of the story (despite the fact the idea had been explored thoroughly during the 50's). And who better to portray this lovable geeky inventor than Rick Moranis, the man who made a career out of playing lovable geeks.

The plot: Its pretty simple really. Eccentric inventor Wayne Szalinski (Moranis) manages to construct a large ray gun that is capable of shrinking objects in size. Unfortunately he is unable to perfect his machine resulting in much frustration and him being mocked at a conference. Its during said conference that Wayne's kids (and the neighbours kids) are accidentally shrunk by the ray gun which had previously been accidentally switched on by a lone baseball. Eventually Wayne and his wife Diane realise what happened and start to hunt for the shrunken kids. In the meantime the kids are in a life and death situation after being ejected into the garden and are trying to reach the safety of the house (whilst trying to grab the adults attention).



The movie does start off slow as we get introduced to all the various characters; indicators for the pending adventure. Nick Szalinski is obviously much like his father, looks a bit of a nerd, scrawny, spectacles, but has brains. Amy Szalinski is the attractive, older level-headed sister of Nick. Ron is one of the Thompson kids from next door, he is a bit chunky and a bit of bully. And lastly there is Russ Thompson, older brother of Ron and again like Amy he is more level-headed and has some looks. In fact he has a crush on Amy that flourishes over the course of the movie. And of course both sets of kid have issues with their folks that cause friction at early points; which of course get addressed and ironed out during the adventure. So overall its a stereotypical little gang, no real surprises.

As with many other fantasy movies the real core interest was in the adventure and how the special effects came across. I remember at the time it was hard to escape the media attention this movie got for its shrinking effects, there was a lot of hype. Looking back now its very amusing how quaint these effects look, I'm not being negative but you can't help but smirk when harking back. In general this movie was definitely a case of, certain shots and sequences would look really great...even now. But then on the other hand certain shots and sequences would look really bad...even worse now.

The best moments are easily when we see the kids on oversized sets against large props; these are the classic shots that obviously hark back to certain golden oldies of the 50's. Its these shots that really sell the idea that the kids are truly microscopic. Just simple things like the texture of the wooden floor in the attic, giant toys, Cheerios, nails, screws, dust, cookies (which served as a food source) etc...Its also other small details such as a little trickle of water in the garden being a gushing river, and the odd dead insect floating around. The fact that the garden becomes a dense dangerous jungle for of all manner of hazards. It doesn't sound overly amazing or anything but its these tiny details that really sell it. I also liked how they didn't shy away from gross things like dead and scary bugs.

Not all the bugs were scary though. At one point Nick accidentally rides a very obvious rubbery bumblebee after falling into a very rubbery looking nectar patch on a flower. The kids also befriend a very rubbery and limited animatronic puppet baby ant (which to them was a giant rideable creature). The ant doesn't really do much for the kids until it is called on to defend them from a scorpion (would there be scorpions in this type of garden environment?). Alas the baby ant is easily killed by the scorpion and we are presented with one of the most tear jerking moments for kids since Optimus Prime died, maybe. Yes the ant was blatantly fake looking and could hardly move...but God damn it hits you hard when the little blighter dies (sniff!).

Indeed I mention rubbery items there, that is one factor that stands out a lot when looking back (probably even at the time). There are a lot of things that do look terribly rubbery or plastic. Some things look great, some things do not. The giant insects do suffer in this way I'm afraid, the giants plants also suffer in the same way. It doesn't ruin the movie but I'm just saying it does stand out. Unfortunately it doesn't help when rubbery things are accompanied with horribly dated bluescreen effects (greenscreen now). Again the bumblebee ride really suffers here as does various shots/sequences of the kids against live action actors or pets. The now famous sequence of the kids running off the dogs snout onto a table is a terrific idea but boy does it look fake in motion. When Wayne is about to eat Nick in his bowl of Cheerios, great idea, looks pretty awful now. Although the close up shots of Nick in an actual bowl of milk with giant Cheerios looks sweet.

Its kinda ironic that this movie actually feels way more like a Disney theme park experience than an actual movie. The whole visual escapade seems so perfect for their theme parks it makes you wonder how no one thought of it earlier. The array of big chunky colourful props and sets, and the brilliantly geeky inventions of Szalinski such as the shrink ray gun or the 'keep off the grass' robot, all marvellously visualised by Joe Johnston and his crew. So yes this is clearly a very visual movie experience (perfect for 3D). On the flip side if we're honest, the plot is pretty shallow and the characters are simplistic and cliched. This isn't a big problem here but I think Rick Moranis saves the rather drab casting. This is just one of those roles where you can't really picture anyone else in it, hmmm...maybe Christopher Lloyd. Anyway to sum up, not quite as epic as you might recall, but certainly a good all round family romp.

7/10

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

Or, curiously, as it was known in the UK 'A Night on the Town'. Funnily enough I can't seem to find out why this change was implemented in the UK. I know the UK version was cut by about 8 seconds for profanity and since then the movie was released with those cuts back in and the original title restored. I guess the title change could have been down to possible confusion with some other movie, I guess. That being said, the plot is essentially a kids version of Martin Scorsese's 1985 movie 'After Hours'.

Not only that, this movie always seemed like a bit of an oddity to me. Its most definitely a classic 80's movie yet somehow...I always felt like it should of had a more classic cast. Its the strangest thing, every time I think about this movie I keep putting other classic actors of the era in it, knowing full well they weren't in it. I guess what I'm saying is this movie really needed some A-list talent in it. The movie really does yearn for a standout comedic performance to add some punch, the best bet being the villains ('Home Alone' being a good example). To me this always felt like a huge missed opportunity.

The other main issue I had with this movie is the plot. Basically Chris Parker (Elizabeth Shue) has taken on a babysitting gig after her boyfriend blows her off. Her job for the evening now is to look after teenager Brad (Keith Coogan), 8 year old Sara (Maia Brewton) and next door neighbour Daryl who gate crashes the situation. Now the entire backbone of the story hinges on one thing, Chris Parker's friend Brenda running away from home and getting stuck at the city bus station. Brenda uses up all her money to run away to the bus station, changes her mind and wants Chris to come pick her up. To me this was always really weak and really annoying too, I'd be like...not my problem, ring your parents. So Chris feels obliged to help her idiotic friend, but to make matters worse the kids blackmail her into taking them along, cue the nightmare.

The movie moves from one set piece to another introducing more and more problems for Chris as her night becomes more and more convoluted. The whole scenario is one long chain reaction of events intertwined. Its also one of those scenarios in a film where you sit there, at times feeling uncomfortable because you just know the characters shouldn't be doing this that or the other. You find yourself saying things out loud because you know what's gonna happen. One of the first major setbacks for Chris and co is when their car gets a flat and after a string of events they end up losing it. This is something that I found to be a constant worry while watching the kids get deeper and deeper. Will they find the car? Where is the car? Is it in one piece? Obviously you know everything will be OK; but you know the movie is working when you're thinking about it.

Of course everything that does happen is pretty cliched, kids being trapped in the city (Chicago) at night you know what to expect. Nothing horrendous obviously as the movie was for kids but the usual stereotypical 80's stuff. Lots of bums, hookers, weirdos, criminals that are generally black or mafia-like, some classic 80's street gangs in some attire to die for, and of course frat boys. Because what 80's flick is complete without frat boys, required or not. But the main crux surrounds the kids being continuously chased by some criminals because they accidentally picked up a Playboy magazine with some important criminal details written inside.



Chris and co manage to stumble into a jazz club where they are forced to sing the blues. This whole sequence was certainly silly and embarrassing that's for sure. I know this is a movie but who would have time for a sing song in this situation?? But this sequence did also remind me very much of 'The Blues Brothers' especially with Albert Collins on show. Later on in the movie the kids wind up at a frat boy party (because...80's) where we see the usual beer chugging tomfoolery along with high school sluts. But we also see another musical cameo from Southside Johnny Lyon which again gave me those Blues Brothers vibes. The soundtrack for the movie is very good overall, some nice soul and blues going down.

As the adventure progresses the kids meet up with various folk who either help them or don't quite simply. All the while annoying Brenda is having a nervous breakdown in the bus station over not very much really. The whole deal with Brenda felt really out of place, just too stupid. I understand she's a teen but Jesus Christ get a fucking grip girl! Gotta say, Maia Brewton who plays little Sara was annoying too with her Thor obsession (yes Thor). This all plays into the sequence where the kids meet up with Dawson (Vincent D'Onofrio), the mechanic who has their car towards the end. This guy has long blonde hair (a terrible wig on D'Onofrio) and carries a sledgehammer that looks like Thor's hammer, so Sara thinks its Thor (ugh!). They owe Dawson $50 for a tyre (only 50! how times have changed), but only have 45, so Dawson refuses. But then little Sara offers him her kids Thor helmet (cos she's dressed as Thor the entire movie), and Dawson suddenly changes his mind, just like that. Deus ex machina Thor helmet moment.

Hell in the finale the kids end up at the top of a skyscraper and Sara flippin' climbs out of the window and shimmies down the glass onto a ledge! She's being chased by one of the bad guys yes but my God! Its at this point I started to question director Chris Columbus's motives. Clearly he did this just to raise the stakes, make things more thrilling, but its essentially really stupid because no kid would do that. Also the carjacker that initially helps the kids, knocks out his criminal boss to help them finally escape. But what happens to him? Does he wind up getting whacked for punching his boss? Or does he give up his life of crime and start over? Who knows.

Naturally everything works out in the end with a Ferris Bueller-esque finish that is reasonably enjoyable. Even though I was engaged in the unfolding events I was never worried about things not working out, obviously. Even though (as I've said) this is a classic 80's flick, in all honesty there are better ones out there in my humble little opinion. This movie is fun but lacks some real talent of the time. There are so many characters that could have easily been cameos for big name comedians of the era. The movie tries to be funny, witty and at times edgy but it tends to fall a bit flat. The music is a highlight as are the glorious retro inner city visuals; but the main characters are kinda irritating and can't hold a candle to other 80's movie casts. In the end its still hard to believe that this entire chain of events happened simply because of one ditzy girlfriend and her own foolishness.

6/10