Saturday, 11 November 2017

The Emoji Movie (2017)

























I guess it had to happen, we live in a time now where nothing is sacred, nothing is safe from being milked dry, and anything is free game. We've seen it all from various obscure choices in the videogame archives; to Barbie to Thomas the Tank Engine to board games and to Lego. They will make a movie out of bloody anything given half a chance. I'm half expecting an animated movie about the world of marbles to roll along anytime soon (yes I'm proud of that pun).

I think its fair to say I wasn't expecting anything much from this movie, if anything I only saw it out of pure morbid curiosity. I was simply intrigued at how they could construct a narrative around some mobile phone app icons. And my God do they try their best here! They really stretch and reach and twist that thin ass plot as best they can. Does it work? Not really no, but kudos for trying.

I mean I can't deny there are some nice little touches here, its not all terrible. The emoji's live inside a phone (duh) which is owned by a young boy named Alex. Said boy is going through the usual pre-pubescent angst with girls and whatnot and of course being young he uses his phone a lot. Within the phone the emoji's dwell in the city of Textopolis (I like it), their daily job is to produce their emoticon or expression on demand (when Alex uses it). Gene is a 'meh' emoji but he can also make other expressions which is looked upon as freakish, or like having a rare disease. When Gene gets his chance to be used by Alex he has a nervous breakdown and fudges it up. He then finds himself listed for deletion because he is now deemed a malfunction. Gene must now flee the city with another has-been emoji to help him find a hacker to hopefully get himself fixed.



So the plot is pretty much the same old shit we've many times before. The protagonist must go on the run to evade the antagonist and her henchmen (henchemoji's). Along the way the protagonist meets new friends that are considered losers basically; and in the end after numerous scrapes they all discover themselves and make friends (whilst saving the day). Its a standard plot mapped on top of this emoji concept.

Despite that its still flippin' convoluted though, the nonsense they set up to explain how emoji's are used on a phone. Its kinda treated like a gameshow scenario where talented, experienced and obviously popular emoji's are used regularly (almost like a sports team). But if an emoji shows good promise or whatever then they get the chance to be 'promoted' onto the phones main app screen. It sounds ridiculous because it basically is. Then all the emoji's that aren't used anymore get lumped into a loser lounge type scenario. Very predictable but also somewhat daft as I'm sure most emoji's actually get used a fair bit the world over.



Call me stupid but one of the main fun things about this movie was spotting all the different emoji's (sad I know). And sure enough they're all here, right down to the national flags. I quite like how the old emoticons are presented as old age pensioners, umm...that's about as clever as it gets really. Aside from that the entire movie plays out like a long TV advert for various smart phone apps like Twitter, Candy Crush, Just Dance etc...The movie also uses every flippin' bit of computer jargon it can muster, in a very predictable and cringeworthy fashion. For instance, pirating is represented by...yep...pirates. A Trojan horse is...umm...a big horse. A firewall is a big fiery wall (ugh!!!), and a virus is a sick looking electronic bacteria (flip me!). Add to that a whole bunch of nauseating pop songs, modern trendy teen lingo, various brands and voilà!

The sidekick characters bland and unfunny (hi-five and a princess), again totally predictable. Alex decides to completely wipe his phone when a few apps play up, why not just uninstall them? When the phone is almost wiped Alex stops because of an unusual emoji?? (Gene pulling a stupid face). This emoji is then sent to the girl he has a crush on and she instantly likes him because of that?? Most of the emoji's in Textopolis are erased during this process, but they all come back perfectly OK when the phone is rebooted? No side affects from that?

Overall the movie certainly isn't as bad as I thought it was gonna be (but its still quite bad). There are some kernels of a good idea hidden away within, the odd sparse highlight. But again overall its still very very basic, bland, uninspiring, unfunny, and it doesn't even look that great really. This was always gonna be an uphill battle simply because what the hell can you do with emoji's?? I stand by my kudos to all involved for actually managing to produce something that isn't a complete train wreck, but at the end of the day I think we can all agree with was a complete waste of time and money. Heck the aim seems to be to push young kids towards their phones more than ever. As if youngsters need that kind of encouragement these days.

3.5/10

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Or as its known in Europe 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge'. Why? I have no idea nor do I particularly care. Which I might add is pretty much how I felt about this movie and this franchise. We're five movies in now and this whole thing is just becoming monotonous and very familiar. The problem is I can't not watch it because I'm somewhat invested in the series; its like I have to watch to simply find out how this shitshow will end. Essentially its the same scenario as the Star Wars prequels, you knew they were poor, but you had to watch them all to see how it all tied up. You just had to!!

So what the hell is going on in Pirateworld this time? Well its basically a soft reboot of the very first movie. The ghostly crew of the Silent Mary, under Captain Salazar, are after Captain Jack Sparrow because of the fact Sparrow landed Salazar and his crew in the devil's triangle which cursed them all (many many years prior). So yes yet again Sparrow is being pursued by undead pirates. At the same time a young Henry Turner (son of Will Turner) is trying to free his father from the Flying Dutchman by locating the Trident of Poseidon. The trident can break all curses upon the sea.

Conveniently, at the same time Henry bumps into the young and beautiful Carina (a Horologist and astronomer) who can help him find the trident (and lead into a very convenient romance). Conveniently Captain Barbossa pops up again who initially sides with Salazar to avoid being killed, but then sides with Sparrow later on to get his hands on the Black Pearl. He then conveniently double crosses Sparrow to take the Pearl and conveniently discovers Carina is his long lost daughter, because of course she is. In the end they all conveniently team up together to defeat Salazar in a highly predictable manner.

The infamous Jack Sparrow is pretty fleeting in this movie it must be said. Apparently director Joachim Rønning wanted to go back to the original concept where Sparrow crashes in and out of scenes as comedic relief. Well they certainly fudged that up because Depp's iconic character is pretty much useless in this movie and could of easily been cut out completely. His character has no story here, he literally pops up here and there for some slapstick. He's just tagging along for the ride, the other characters actually have goals where as Sparrow merely gets in the way. His only hook is that he lost his crew after they lost confidence in him, so he's a bit depressed basically. This is why he accidentally unleashes Salazar from the devil's triangle (by giving up his compass for a drink; something that escapes me because you probably gotta recall the last movie).



I understand what Rønning was trying to do but here's the thing, in the original movie Sparrow was a bright new character. The character took everyone by surprise with his antics. This type of old fashioned visual humour was a real breath of fresh air; but now the character is a has-been, old hat, nothing left, milked dry. Jack Sparrow's run is essentially over and this merely proved it.

Naturally this franchise is now all about the spectacular visual effects and stunts and naturally this movie does maintain that. The movie is chock-a-block with CGI visuals as you would expect, some good, some not so much. I think we can all agree that landscapes and vistas work best for CGI shots. An attack of undead cursed sharks might sound like a cool idea but its also an example of how some CGI sequences looked utter crap. Strangely enough despite the fact the movie is stunning to look at, its nowhere near as good as the previous movies, it didn't feel as grand or lavish to me. There was also quite a lot of bad looking greenscreen shots too.

But the real guff came in sequences and ideas that either didn't make any sense or just went nowhere. At the start of the movie a very young Henry rows out into the middle of the ocean and throws himself over-board tied to a large rock. He then proceeds to sink to the exact spot where the Flying Dutchman is sunk, or waiting? I dunno exactly. Sure the kid had a map but really? The British Navy (that are briefly seen here and there) don't believe in all the supernatural stories they've heard. Again really?? With everything that happens at sea in your world?? You'd think this shit would be common knowledge. Sparrow and his men attempt to rob a bank by pulling its enormous steel safe out of the building (through a wall) by horsepower...yeeeah that's really stupid on so many levels.



At one point the movie literally stops dead just so Sparrow can talk quickly to his uncle Jack. Yep the movie stops dead in its tracks to simply give Paul McCartney a pointless cameo. The guards carrying Jack just haul him over to the cell holding his uncle so they can chat. Why would they do this?? Oh yeah...Paul's cameo. At another point Sparrow is captured by some Irish (?) pirates who want to force him to marry one of their own as payment for a debt or whatever. Clearly there is backstory here but we don't find out what. Then Barbossa turns up and kills the Irish leader and that's that, on with the show. Salazar's ship is just a bare skeleton of the hull or rotting wreck, but somehow it eats other ships or something. This also causes other ships to explode for some reason...eh??

Then in the finale the ocean parts (yes parts) for the characters to find the trident, this is quite a quick process. Yet when the movie reaches its climax and the ocean starts to fall back in on itself, this takes AGES!!!. In fact it takes just enough time for the main protagonists to be rescued. I might add that this entire sequence on the ocean floor with the CGI parted ocean, looks terrible. Then right at the end (God knows where) various characters from the previous movies just all turn up randomly, outta nowhere, conveniently at the exact same spot for a soppy reunion. This led me to simply ask...how on earth is this actually happening? Its like Rønning just said, fuck it! we'll just toss in these characters because we can, no one will question it because its a silly fantasy. Are you even trying anymore with this movie/franchise?

The real problem for this movie I fear is the fact that you gotta remember everything that's happened previously, to some degree. Don't get me wrong, its cool that the continuity is well maintained but with the number of movies in this franchise and their convoluted plots, its more like actual work than anything to keep up. Next to that the action felt very poorly choreographed and edited this time round. Just not exciting really, just mundane and unimaginative. There are way too many characters now, its really ridiculous actually. To top that it seems like they're bringing back yet another character from a previous sequel for the next movie (ugh!!!). As said the movie looks glossy but its by far the worst looking of the franchise. And last but not least, the movie is simply a rehash of the original. We've seen this before and its slowly happening more and more it seems, its just not acceptable.

Folks at the end of the day if you're a fan of the franchise you will probably like this; although I'm very sure you may not rate it highly. If you're not a fan of the franchise or a casual movie goer, I'd say skip it because you've seen it all before I guarantee. Its not really a good stand alone movie. This franchise has officially capsized and sunk.

4/10

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Blood Father (FRA, 2016)

























Apparently this movie is based on a novel of the same name and a French action thriller. I did not know this and I'm surprised. Surprised that's its a French made movie because I certainly didn't get that vibe in the trailers. And I'm surprised at yet another novel adaptation, like almost every other flick!

Again the plot is nothing really original (a rarity these days), its main hook is the fact we see old Mel Gibson back in action again. The plot starts with Lydia (Erin Moriarty) who is in a relationship with a gang leader called Jonah (Diego Luna). During a hit on some tenants Jonah claims stole money from them, Lydia accidentally shoots Jonah. Thinking she's killed him she runs off and gets in contact with her ex-convict father John (Gibson). Lydia explains the situation and John decides to look after Lydia at his trailer house in the middle of nowhere (hoping no one will find them). Alas Jonah's gang members come after Lydia and drag John into the fray. What follows is a somewhat slow moving chase thriller as John must protect Lydia from the gang out for revenge.

I think the problem with this movie is the fact it doesn't really offer anything new (plus it literally feels like it could be another movie about old man Wolverine/Logan). Gibson's character is your standard gruff, hardassed, tattooed, ex-con who's turned his life around and deep down has a good heart. His slutty looking daughter Lydia is your typical slutty looking mouthy teen, who has gotten herself into shit and needs her daddy to bail her out. All the while being somewhat ungrateful about it along the way. The bad guys are your stereotypical tattooed Latino gangsters. And most of the folk we meet along the way are all scruffy looking redneck biker types, complete with some Nazi and Confederate imagery for good measure.



As the story unfolds its not hard to guess what's gonna happen really. Obviously at first John and Lydia are a tad distant, Lydia doesn't completely trust John, and John wants to ween Lydia off the drugs and alcohol she's hooked on. It really is the all the usual beats. John must ask favours from various friends, some good like Kirby (William H. Macy) and some not so good like Preacher (Michael Parks). Speaking of stereotypical characters, Preacher has his own biker garage/club set up where he sells all his (Nazi and Confederate) war memorabilia. You know straight away not to trust this bloke. Anyway as time passes John and Lydia grow closer together until at the end Lydia realises how much she loves and needs John (naturally when its too late).

I guess the million Dollar question was, was the films main selling point of Mel Gibson being the anti-hero protagonist enough? Could Gibson still deliver a knockout? In my opinion the answer to that would yes and no. Lets not beat around the bush here, Gibson has clearly changed his image in recent years. He's clearly been hitting the gym and getting roided up (health issues at his age?). Anyway performance-enhancing drugs aside, Gibson does look good despite the ravages of time on his looks. Strangely enough he actually looks even more badass in his old age and possibly even more of a better fit for an aged Wolverine.



Gibson definitely dishes out a solid weighty performance bursting with raw scary beardy-faced energy. In fact his beard is almost its own character, its an awesome beard, the white patch on his chin being the clear highlight. So much so that when he shaves it off his character noticeably becomes less interesting. All of a sudden we lose the unhinged, wide-eyed, muscular, Wolverine-esque, bearded one. And we're left with a boring looking Mel Gibson from 'Payback' (1999). The thing is I believe you could swap out Gibson with any number of decent action thriller actors such as...Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe or Liam Neeson, and probably get the same result. So even though I liked Gibson in this movie, I'd say his presence wasn't a make or break factor.

Overall I'd have to say I was actually somewhat disappointed with this movie. The trailer was pretty epic and kinda gave me the wrong impression really. I was expecting a more rock 'em, sock 'em action flick top heavy with kickassery. But what you get is a more heartfelt, slow paced drama with the odd burst of action that isn't really that good. Yes its authentic, its not over the top and stupid, but I just got the impression we'd be seeing more of Gibson kicking ass. We actually see very little of Gibson kicking ass which seems a waste considering all that muscle he's packed on.

In the end the movie finishes as you knew it would do, in fact I'm sure we've all seen the same ending before in other movies. I can't help but think this could have been a really stonking gritty action flick, but Gibson wanted to show his acting chops (which aren't quite there I'm afraid). Its by no means a bad film or a mediocre film, its a very solid film, just not as good as the posters and trailers make out.

7/10

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Mole People (1956)




















Only the cinematic era of the 50's could come up with a movie like this, a movie about actual mole humanoids (or humanoid moles). As I've said before, within this decade they pretty much used every kind of insect and animal they could think of to besiege humanity.

The movie starts off in a unique way by having a science and history lesson. And by that I mean an actual Californian professor (Dr. Frank Baxter) talks and explains to the viewer about various old theories of a hollow Earth and how this movie is a fictional representation of those theories. Although I enjoyed this amusing little snippet from a stereotypical looking 1950's professor in his stereotypical 1950's looking study, it all seemed rather bizarre to me. What was the need for this? Did the audience back then really need confirmation that the movie was fantasy?? Did they need to have a professor talking about ancient hollow Earth theories?

'Primitive man, going into caves, reaching back and back and down and down, wondered what lay beyond. Then in terror he fled out!'
Is this proper English, Mr. English professor? Who wrote this?? Its terrible geez!

Any way the plot is what you might expect. Some archaeologists are digging around somewhere in Asia and discover ancient relics that are apparently Sumerian. One thing leads to another and before you know it they're up a mountain discovering a temple, then the ground opens up and some bloke falls down into a deep cave. Well I guess you know what comes next, down the hole they go and piff paff poof! They end up discovering a lost Sumerian civilisation beneath the Earth. These people are of course way behind the times worshiping ancient gods. They are albino, can be killed by sunlight, oh and they also enslave a race of mole people to harvest fungi which they eat.

So first off let me just point out the casting of Alan Napier here as Elinu the High Priest. Yes that Alan Napier of the campy classic 1966 Batman series with Adam West. The rest of the cast are pretty much your standard affair truth be told. There is nothing special about any of them. A couple stout white blokes, a sexy blonde bit of totty for them to rescue...and of course fall in love with. All the native actors are of course white and generally terrible at acting in a charming kind of way. But then you have Alan Napier, clearly a class act, clearly on another level in terms of talent and experience. The man gives this movie credibility it does not deserve. Whilst the rest of the crew are merely meh, Napier's campness is fecking marvelous! When a native girl starts her ritual dance before, what I presume to be virgins, are sacrificed to the light; the girl flirts her way over to Napier's High Priest. She starts to seductively jiggle before him which results in the most brilliant look of disgust, disapproval and exasperation from Napier's priest.

Effects wise its what you have come to expect from these movies. The first opening shot of the lost Sumerian city is a nice matte painting back-projected against some live action of the actors. Again bog standard fair but it looks relatively acceptable, some nice depth. All the caves are generally very basic looking whilst the very clean and in good condition temple areas (they are supposedly 5000 years old) are clearly sets that look more like a theatrical stage productions (although large). As with many of these black and white movies the lack of colour helps sell the effect because it hides the joins so to speak. All the natives are wearing rather hokey medieval/Arabian looking outfits that look more like Halloween costumes. But surprisingly the mole humanoids (or humanoid moles) actually look pretty good. It does appear that maybe the budget was maybe spend on getting the mole masks looking as terrifying as possible...and it was worth it! Obviously they are just men in suits with big rubber claws and rubber masks but they do work.

I must also point out how effective it was seeing these mole people rise from the earth like the undead (hmmm). Its a simple effect for sure but very eerie and again it works wonders here, I'm sure the audience would have been scared shitless seeing this. But like I said, other than the mole people its all a bit average really, stereotypical ancient tribal stuff. Everyone is albino so they're simply painted white from head to toe. The characters generally don't seem fazed by anything such as finding mole people, finding a Sumerian civilisation and vice versa them finding modern humans. The heroes take it all in their stride whilst the natives just wanna sacrifice everyone to their God. Final mention to the native dancing girl for the most obviously made-up native dance ever; plus the actress looks to be Asian as in possibly Chinese or Southeast Asian, whoops!

Lets also just overlook how they managed to get so much metal and precious stones down there, surely the mole people could only mine so much in that region. Oh and how they made their clothes, why they sacrifice young women and not die out, how they only live on mushrooms, and how this civilisation never ventured back to the surface in 5000 years! I suppose I should also mention that the mole people are actually not required in this movie despite being awesome. They have no real point to the plot other than to scare the audience, plus we never find out what they are or how they came to be. You could of quite easily just had a movie about the explorers in this subterranean world. So the movies title is a bit cheeky. I'm also unsure as to how exactly the Sumerians managed to keep the mole folk in slavery for so long with only whips and swords. The mole people aren't allergic to light so that gave them an advantage.

But I think one of the most surprising aspects in this movie (other than the excellent looking mole monsters) is the fact they used a real ancient civilisation. I'm sure I wouldn't be alone in expecting them to just make up some ridiculous sounding ancient race like 'Zynapians' or something (I Googled that word and its definitely not an ancient race). But on the other hand that means they would have had to get the Sumerian culture visually correct, did they? I don't know not being up on my Sumerian culture, but kudos for going there I guess. I suppose we should all just be thankful they didn't resort to using ancient Greek or Roman costumes. This movie is good fun in the usual schlocky way; its certainly engaging with its natives, moles and crazy Fu Manchu priest. Just don't expect anything to be explained much, it all just happens because.

7/10

Sunday, 29 October 2017

A Night at the Roxbury (1998)

























Or as it was originally known 'The Roxbury Guys' was another reoccurring sketch within the classic American late night show Saturday Night Live. Whilst I'm not entirely sure who came up with the original idea, the two main characters in the sketch were always played by Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell. The duo were often joined by a third character who would be played by another famous actor. The most well known seems to be Jim Carrey's contribution.

The entire idea behind this sketch was simple. Two (or three) guys that are habitual clubbers, dressed in garish rayon suits, adorned with tacky bling, slicked (90's) hair, and desperately trying to pull anything in a dress with a heartbeat. Even though the guys are experienced in clubbing, their clubbing escapades are generally huge fails because of their adolescent approach to basically everything. The guys come off more like permanently horny teenagers gagging for the slightest bit of female interaction. And when they get it they'd probably cum in their pants straight away.

The movie takes this premise and expands it somewhat. Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell are the main two protagonists again but there is no third member. The duo are now brothers that still live with their very wealthy parents in LA, I think. Most definitely somewhere on the Californian coast. The premise is entirely the same with the brothers spending all their time thinking about clubbing and getting laid. In the background their artificial plant store owner father (Dan Hedaya) is trying to get Steve (Ferrell) to marry Emily (Molly Shannon). Emily being the daughter of a wealthy light fitting store owner that sits next door to the artificial plant store. Meanwhile Doug (Kattan) is trying to keep Steve's mind focused on their plan of owning a top nightclub in the area.

The first few sequences of the movie start in exactly the same way the short SNL sketches do. The camera slowly moves through a crowded club towards the bar where the brothers stand, backs to the camera, nodding their heads to the beat. The beat in question is of course 'What is Love' by Haddaway which played through every sketch. See it as the theme tune for 'The Roxbury Guys'. It is painfully obvious that the first 10 minutes or so of the movie are actually the most enjoyable. A collection of short clips showcasing what the brothers are like, how they behave, and how unsuccessful they are. It sums up the entire concept of the characters and all the main gags from the SNL sketches in one blast. Unfortunately this kinda renders the rest of the movie pointless because they were the best bits. Its like they blew their load straight away and no need to carry on.

I like how the brothers feel like their lives are hard and they have to deal with many injustices. When in reality their parents are very rich (from artificial flowers?), they live in a large mansion complete with pool and guest house, and they seemingly have no responsibilities. I like how the parents seem to be a very stereotypically über wealthy LA couple. The mother (Loni Anderson) has a very fake looking face due to plastic surgery and tonnes of makeup. Indeed one of the jokes is how she shows off her new chin to family friends. Hedaya's character (presumably down to his family heritage) dresses in a very flamboyant Greek-like style, or maybe very Miami Beach-esque. I dunno really, being British I'm not too au fait with US west coast cultures, but that's how it looks to me.

The entire movie mocks the entire wealthy west coast beachfront lifestyle. You know what I mean, everyone you see seemingly being beautiful. All the guys are ripped, all the women are blonde, the tans, muscles, gyms, perpetual sunshine etc...Then by night its all glitzy clubs where your name has to be on a list to get in, unless you're famous and rich. The whole look and feel of it is actually really vomit inducing, so fake and materialistic. This is capitalised on by having a couple of sexy club sluts (gold-diggers) trying to get into the brothers pants after they're seen with a super rich club owner (Chazz Palminteri).

So I guess it felt totally natural that they stick in a has-been of the big and small screen, Richard Grieco. Now this guy totally encapsulated the entire image of this movie (obviously why they cast him). A relatively big star, slowly fading, now living life as a rich socialite. The girl on his arm is obviously there for the ride, he only gets into clubs because (at that time) he was rich and famous, and he's now overweight with a fake looking face (makeup much!). It seems he's in the movie for the purpose of showcasing the worst aspects of Hollywood and the glitzy lifestyle. The real question is was Grieco in on the joke?

That's not to say this movie is totally unenjoyable, oh on, there are some good laughs to be had. Kattan (who has a face like Kermit the Frog) and Ferrell are both pretty amusing here. Apart from the obvious things like their hair and attire, the visual gags, slapstick and dialog are generally OK, it raises a giggle. Doug is the brains of the duo so to speak, whilst Steve is more the gentle doofus. Much like Jim Carrey, Kattan is good with his rubbery face and physical comedy. Where as a young Ferrell seems to be good at playing simple and vulnerable. I like how Hedaya's character constantly scorns and mocks Doug and how he reaslise Steve is a moron, but obedient. Molly Shannon puts in the perfect performance as an overbearing bitch who is more interested in making money than enjoying life. She's almost like executive dominatrix and gets her way by literally sucking Steve off. I didn't see a problem with this relationship myself, I'm down!

Some bits I could even relate too. When Steve starts showing doubt about marrying Emily, Hedaya's disciplinarian father figure calmly and firmly tells him, the caterer has already been paid for and his grandparents flew half way around the world just for this. In other words you're marrying Emily because it would be seriously inconvenient and a waste of money not too. That is totally something my own mother would say I swear to God!

In general I can fully understand why this got slated upon release because its the epitome of a one trick pony padded out into a movie. There was never a need to make a movie out of the original sketch because the original sketch just worked so well. Nevertheless I can't deny its a bit of a guilty pleasure flick for a lazy night in. Its one of those movies you can throw on again and again for a bit of a silly laugh. Either take a trip down memory lane back to the 90's, or to cheer yourself up if you're a bit down. The soundtrack is also, like the movie, a guilty pleasure boasting tracks you probably danced to back in the day (age depending of course). Yes its a brainless feature and essentially a collection of skits stuck together. But I believe the two leads are likeable enough to keep you entertained, and possibly come back for more.

6.5/10

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Monkeybone (2001)

























This movie was originally supposed to based on the graphic novel Dark Town which you can see from the basic plot setup. But for whatever reasons this notion slowly ebbed away and the project morphed into what we have here.

The plot focuses on cartoonist Stu Miley (Brendan Fraser) who gets involved in a car crash which puts him into a coma. Whilst in his coma Stu's spirit (soul?) is sent to 'Down Town', a realm located in limbo populated by odd creatures, imaginary characters and other spirits. A kind of waiting room for people in transit, not yet dead. In Down Town the bizarre inhabitants are entertained by nightmares and Hypnos, the God of sleep, craves more to give himself more power (for some reason). In order to do this, Hypnos tricks Stu into stealing an exit pass from Death. He then sends Monkeybone (a now real infamous cartoon character created by Stu) back to the land of the living and into Stu's body. There Monkeybone will steal and release a chemical substance that gives people (and animals) nightmares, to fuel Hypnos' power.

The plot isn't really anything we haven't seen before with strong nods towards Tim Burton classic 'Beetlejuice'. Of course that isn't too much of a surprise seeing as Henry 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' Selick is the director. And of course being a Henry Selick movie you know to expect a visual feast. For those not in the know, Henry Selick is a stop motion director. A slow process usually involving small handmade puppets/models that are moved an inch at a time. This movie being live action with a heavy dose of stop motion animation and practical effects.



The effects themselves were quite impressive back in the day, as I recall, obviously these days things don't quite look as slick. Down Town seems to be a carnival themed shanty town with various odd rides, stalls and bars. The whole town is a shadowy place highlighted by fairground lighting and strewn with typically exaggerated buildings. Its certainly very cool to look at but the entire thing is clearly one big set, a bit too obviously so. Other locations such as Death's realm didn't really look as unique or cool as Down Town, and again couldn't help but look totally set-like. But I did like the massive creepy roller coaster and kooky little trains we see controlled by Reapers. Still can't help but feel Tim Burton already did this though.

The various creatures characters we see appear to be a mix of mythical, religious and animalistic creations that are rendered in both live action with full bodysuits or stop motion. Obviously being based on a graphic novel and clearly a surreal fantasy nothing is supposed to be realistic looking. Many of these characters do look deliberately tacky (to me) as if based around real mascot type outfits. But there is also a neat little blend of stop motion spliced with some characters, their mouths or legs being stop motion for example. Some characters such as the annoying Monkeybone himself are fully stop motion animated, in this case a monkey voiced by John Turturro. In most cases the fully animated stop motion characters are well crafted and animated, but fail to blend in well with live action characters. Alas the nasty bluescreen monster rears its ugly head a lot throughout (especially in the finale, yikes!).

As mentioned above Monkeybone the character is annoying, which is a problem seeing as he is one of the main protagonists, sort of. It just feels far too predictable that Monkeybone would be this rude, obnoxious, sexist, pervert with an annoying high pitch voice. The character just feels like a combination of a South Park character and Jim Carrey in 'The Mask' (going by what was hot in that era). The character just comes across as an obligatory lazy rip-off from other material. Lets make him edgy, we'll make him a loud, motormouth pervert...ugh! Originality please.

Whilst the movies special effects are lovely showcasing great skill, the same cannot be said for the casting. I still cannot fathom why Selick would cast Brendan Fraser in this picture. Nothing against Fraser but his childish comedic antics are terrible. I know the man can act but for some reason he's just terrible here, cringeworthy, much like his other family friendly flicks. Fraser is badly miscast in this dark fantasy and watching him pretend to be a monkey in a human body is simply embarrassing. Then you have the even more bizarre choice of Whoopi Goldberg for Death, really?? This casting literally pulls you out of the movie its so bad. There are so many people who could play a fantastic eerie Death...and they chose Whoopi Goldberg?! I don't even have to explain myself here, its fecking obvious.

Yet on the flip side of the coin we have Chris Kattan, a promising star at one point. Gotta give the man kudos here, he plays a dead corpse (possessed by Stu) with a broken neck brilliantly. Sounds easy enough right? Well think again, watch Kattan do his thing and then try to copy it. I was really impressed with his performance in essentially a cameo role. Quirky, amusing, great physical acting and heartfelt. I will overlook the odd subplot where doctors are chasing him down for his organs. This body comes back to life whilst they are cutting out the innards and runs off; yet all they are concerned about is getting their organs. Obviously its a running gag (no pun intended), but its stupid. Then there's the part where Stu (still possessing this cadaver) kisses his wife-to-be! Like did she forget it was a dead body??

For the casual viewer I fear this will not go down too well and I understand why. The plot is weak and unoriginal. Why exactly does Hypnos want more power? What is the actual point of Monkeybone in the movie? The movie is all about the titular monkey but you could easily remove him from the movie. Fraser's character is the typical loner comicbook creator who doesn't want any fame or fortune and loathes the attention from his creation (why???). There are lots of other characters that feel pointless such as Miss Kitty (Rose McGowan). Stu's girlfriend (Bridget Fonda) works for a sleep institute which has developed a chemical to induce nightmares, why exactly??? Also at times the movie does swing from Pee-wee Herman-esque moments to hellish nightmare scenarios.

Clearly there are a tonne of influences going on in this movie, some obvious, some not as much. Various sequences in the movie are based on, or homaged to specific artists whom I've never heard of or seen their work, so I therefore cannot comment. I also do not know anything about the original source material so again I cannot comment on that. All I can say is for anyone who enjoys a dreamlike fantasy that's off the wall with abstract visuals, you may well like this. Anyone who is a fan of Tim Burton's visual style, you may well enjoy this for the surreal sequences. Anyone who appreciates solid stop motion animation, this is for you. Overall though its a bit of a misfire, its not sure what it wants to be.

5/10

Monday, 23 October 2017

Sgt. Bilko (1996)

























Like many classic American TV shows The Phil Silvers Show was something I knew of but have never really seen before (unlike Mr Ed which I did watch a lot when I was a kid living in the US back in 87. Still waiting for that inevitable movie adaptation). Sure I've seen the odd snippet here and there, I know what the basic premise is, but I've never actually seen an entire episode. So with that I originally saw this movie (back in 96 on first day release) as a newbie, and to this day that hasn't changed. I still haven't seen anything much of the original material except for snippets. So to me Steve Martin is essentially my Sgt. Bilko, but is that a good thing?

The plot: Like almost all of Steve Martin's movies the plot is incredibly simple (admittedly so was the source material). Master Sergeant Ernest Bilko is in charge of the motor pool (a garage in the military) at Fort Baxter in the US army. He and his boys have an easy life bending the rules and trying to dodge any kind of actual military work where ever possible. Their entire operation is a smooth running gravy train with Col. John T. Hall (Dan Aykroyd) successfully kept in the dark at all times. That is until an old adversary from Bilko's past (Phil Hartman as Maj. Thorn) pops up and tries to take revenge for a past incident. Yeah that's it.

The entire gist behind the character of Bilko is essentially that he's a trickster. He's dodgy, a gambler, obsessed with money, untrustworthy around money, and tries to get out of work whenever possible. He spends most of his time in the motor pool trying to get rich quick with various dubious schemes, or simply avoiding work of any kind. Either he works his ruses or he'll get his men to do the dirty work for him. All the while he attempts to pull the wool over his superiors eyes (Col. Hall), or other officials, or visitors, or other soldiers from other units, or his own men. Whichever way he can successfully squeeze money outta someone or something.

'What's that?!'
'That's horseshit Sir'




Truth be told this movie is pretty much one long collection of sketches, one after another showcasing Martin and co pulling off swindles. Luckily this is relatively enjoyable as what we get is amusing in a very very soft and light-hearted manner. Bilko's troops are a stereotypically raucous bunch with all the cliches firmly in place. You have the big dumb soldier, the big fat soldier, the Latino soldier, a token female soldier, a token black soldier, the Italian American type soldier, and the new transfer who's initially a real jobsworth that eventually warms up to Bilko's antics (of course). Surprisingly the only thing missing was a token gay character for some cheeky gags.

Dan Aykroyd's Col. Hall is the gentle, bumbling, innocent military officer who is completely oblivious to Bilko's hoodwinking...in part. He does seem to be somewhat aware of the fact Bilko is up to no good; but in general he is duped quite often without even realising. I think Phil Hartman's Maj. Thorn sums up Hall perfectly when he calls him a rube. As for Maj. Thorn he is the stereotypically cartoonish villain that could easily be from a Simpsons episode. The mannerisms for both of these characters are very much over the top, larger than life, but it does work for the movie. Both actors are very good at what they do and its very enjoyable to watch them overact here. Hartman clearly relished being this stuck-up villainous asshole.

'What was that?!'
'A greyhound Sir'

The real enjoyment comes from the montages where we see Bilko and his men in full swing with all their various scams, games and skiving. These range from a cleverly disguised casino in the garage. Roller hockey tournaments and strength contests between fat soldier Doberman and a horse. Using military funds for various other non-military ventures, having wild parties with booze and hookers, playing golf, fixing audits etc...Its all very silly, very childish and highly unrealistic of course, but its supposed to be. Indeed where as some of the things they get up to are just plain daft and make your eyes roll; other things are quite clever with some nice visual trickery.



At the same time, due to Bilko not ever training his men, they are all useless at actually being soldiers. Once Thorn gets his teeth into them we get the obligatory training montage where we see how crap and unfit all these guys are at military type stuff. Again its all very silly, predictable and cliched, you can see what's coming a good country mile away. Cue lots of visual gags surrounding Doberman the fat soldier. There is also a subplot involving Bilko always trying to get married to his sweetheart but never quite managing to get their on time. Basically he's scared to take the plunge and somehow gets out of it by challenging his fiancée to a game of cards when he turns up late to the alter. She is also addicted to gambling it seems. This entire subplot feels really unnecessary and crowbarred in frankly. It brings the movie to a grinding halt every time, its clearly in there for the romance factor.

Steve Martin is admittedly on good form here, he manages to map his off the wall comedic style (taming it for a family audience) onto a classic character from the 50's very well. Most of the laughs do come from Martin and his somewhat camp physical performance, quips and defiance of the rules. The fit is a surprisingly good one along with Aykroyd, Hartman and some of the soldier actors. The main plot involving the production of the hover tank is a quirky one for sure. It is fun watching Thorn trying to find a way to nail Bilko and get his revenge, only to end up being tricked by Bilko yet again. Naturally this is all predictable just like the rest of the movie, but its pleasing enough.

The problem here is the movie just isn't consistent, its very patchy, fun in parts but generally very tame and very infantile. Overall its a very very safe movie; it doesn't take too many risks, its not rude or vulgar, it basically goes down a well trodden path. A very laid back movie, with no controversial content, for a lazy afternoon or evening where you just wanna relax and giggle at some nonsense.

5.5/10