Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (FR, 2017)

Awesome name right, flippin' awesome. This attractively titled movie is based on the French comicbook series Valérian and Laureline. I've never heard of this comicbook series but apparently its one of the biggest Franco-Belgian titles around. There is also an animated series of this comic too, who'd of thought it.

I really liked the basic setup for this movie. Via flashbacks in the opening credits we are told the story of the International Space Station (ISS). It starts off historically accurate showcasing the station being placed into Earth's orbit, and then slowly over the years sections being added and different countries joining the crew. But as we progress further into the future things obviously become more fictional with the station growing larger and larger and eventually alien creatures greeting humans on-board in diplomatic, historical events. It gets to a point where ISS is so big it becomes a danger to Earth, so its moved off into deep space and renamed 'Alpha'. And thus we have the massive space city of a thousand planets (referring to all the alien species that live within the city).

This one concept is fantastic, love it. The rest of the films plot not so much. Essentially what we have is yet another Avatar-esque story surrounding a primitive race of aliens that have their home planet unceremoniously wiped out by nasty humans. It wasn't an intentional act mind you but whatever. These aliens infiltrate the massive Alpha city to assimilate human knowledge in order to build a new ship that can recreate their home world (I didn't understand this part). This also involved finding a couple mcguffins and some kidnapping hijinks, which in turn brings in our human protagonists, Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) to solve the case.

Right lets look at the best part of this movie, in fact its the only good thing in this movie. So Valerian and Laureline have been tasked with finding the 'Mül converter', a creature that can clone anything it eats, and it can apparently eat anything? This meant going to a vast open desert which is the location of an extra-dimensional market place, and tourist attraction. Within the extra-dimensional marketplace they must infiltrate an alien gangsters lair to steal said converter.

So basically what this means is, somewhere else in the universe (and in another dimension) there is this huge Tatooine-esque town and market. But the only way to reach or visit it is via special attire that allows the user to cross space and time in an instant. The user is basically a projected hologram in the distant extra-dimensional market place; whilst back in the desert the user walks around almost like they're using a virtual reality headset.



At the same time Valerian is able to use smaller versions of this technology in the form of a simple cube device. This allows him to simply put his hand into the cube which contains a portal of sorts. So on one side of the cube his hand is in the extra-dimensional market place, like a dismembered floating hand; whilst the rest of him is still in the desert in relative safety. It all sounds quite complex and its hard to explain in writing, but trust me its a fantastic bit of futuristic visual fantasy.

In short what we get for the first half of this movie (after a rather soppy beginning involving the primitive alien race) is a superb slice of science fiction that encapsulates amazing imagination, mind boggling futuristic technology, wonderfully designed alien beings, an atmospheric setting, and a thrilling rollercoaster of a ride. Admittedly its not all perfectly original as we've all seen sandy alien marketplaces before...ahem, but that's being picky.

But here lies the problem with this movie. After this mesmerising sequence of innovative action the entire movie literally falls to pieces, its crumbles under its own weight. For a start it won't have escaped your attention that the two protagonists are utterly terrible and miscast. Both DeHaan and Delevingne come across like emotionless robots with glazed over eyes. The duo don't gel together romantically or when the action kicks in. Its actually quite remarkable really, both come across like CGI characters devoid of any real human characteristics, its like they were both grown in a lab by Hollywood. DeHaan looks like a younger DiCaprio but with none of the talent; whilst Delevingne has one default facial expression she obviously learnt from her fashion modelling days.



These main character issues obviously affect other parts of the movie. Naturally you as the viewer don't care about either of them; you know neither will die anyway but you couldn't care a less because they're so robotic. When we are first introduced to both Valerian and Laureline, Valerian proposes to Laureline, but she says no. This is supposed to make us feel emotion for Valerian, but because they are both so zombie-like in performance and we know nothing about them, its falls completely flat. In the fantastic marketplace action sequence the duo actually infiltrate said marketplace with a team of other elite police officers. All these guys get killed...but who cares? Well clearly Valerian and Laureline don't, just another day at the office.

On space station Alpha during an important summit meeting to discuss the mysterious toxic zone at the centre of the station, the primitive aliens break in and kidnap Commander Arün Filitt (Clive Owen). This really made no sense because we are led to believe that technology is so advanced in this age that the sheer notion of anyone being able to sneak into an important area in the station and actually take out all the security...would be nigh on impossible. Yet the so called primitive race manage just this and kidnap the commander. They also managed to land their craft nearby, and no one detected this? The fact these primitive aliens also seem to be so very environmentally friendly, passive and perfect makes this political move even more unbelievable really. We're talking about half naked aliens covered in seashell jewellery here people.



This leads to a large chase sequence where Valerian suits up in some other super hi-tech suit thing which enables him to smash through any and all walls. This gives us a brilliant sequence showcasing all the various environments within Alpha. Problem is these different environments include underwater sections and areas which are clearly finely balanced for their alien inhabitants. But none of that matters because Valerian smashes through walls, seemingly obliterating balanced environments yet not causing any major catastrophes such as huge leaks from the underwater areas.

Things go from bad to worse as we are introduced to the three exposition aliens that try to simplify the plot for us when things get too ridiculous. There's an entire underwater sequence with a Captain Nemo type character that is completely pointless. There's the casting of Rihanna as a shapeshifting alien dancer called Bubble (pretty awful CGI effects). Much like the Captain Nemo character Bubble is also pretty pointless and could have quite easily been removed. Obviously Besson wanted Rihanna in for the star power. Speaking of wanting star power, there's also Ethan Hawke as Bubble's pimp, again pointless. There are jellyfish type creatures that can read your brain and show you pretty much everything that's ever popped in there, including dreams and visions. Huge sea creatures live in sections of Alpha apparently. And there are also entire undiscovered civilisations within Alpha, that's how big it is.

There is so much I could write about this movie both good and bad. The reason being there is so much in-depth detail and world building in this movie, its quite an achievement really. Luc Besson has outdone himself here and easily bettered his other famous sci-fi 'The Fifth Element' in my opinion. Although I have no idea how accurate this is to the original source material. But the one huge sticky problem is...the movie just can't sustain itself and just collapses. It goes from being a reasonably intelligent, exciting and unique space opera into a formulaic, messy, incoherent, unoriginal snooze fest. Don't get me wrong, the movie looks incredible with its lavish other-worldly designs and vivid aliens, but talk about an anti-climax. So kudos for nearly everything, but maybe they should have focused the movie around that first marketplace location. Really wanted to love this but in the end I can't help but feel disappointed.

6.5/10

Saturday, 13 January 2018

The Lego Ninjago Movie (2017)

Back in 2014 we got an animated movie based on the world famous building bricks for children, Lego. Now I'm willing to admit that when I first heard about this movie I scoffed at it and brushed it aside as a mere gimmick. I'm sure many folk did the same upon hearing the news of a Lego movie. But low and behold that movie turned out to be something special and did very well. Before we all knew what had hit us Lego movies were suddenly a thing, something big, something to anticipate.

Then in 2017 along came Lego Batman and once again, despite the first movies success I doubted it. I thought it was just gonna be a cheap spin-off, a tacky cash-in. Again I was wrong as Lego Batman kicked ass, although not as much ass as the original movie. And now we have the third Lego movie, the second of 2017! Should I have the same concern? Are they now pumping out too many Lego movies? What exactly is Ninjago anyway?

So what the flip is Lego Ninjago? Well basically its an old Lego ninja line from the late 90's which was somewhat based around feudal Japan. This line was simply spruced up with lots of new modern elements to appeal to modern kids. These elements included things like modern/futuristic technology, vehicles, actual characters etc...whilst retaining a mystical supernatural element at the same time. This was all wrapped around a kind of Power Rangers/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles type of vibe. A group of young crime fighters fighting evil with fantasy elements.

So what's the plot all about? Well its Power Rangers and...that's pretty much it. All these Lego folk live on an island apparently called Ninjago (Ninjago?). The evil Lord Garmadon constantly attacks the island because he wants to rule over it. Garmadon being a sort of supernatural samurai warrior type bloke. But Ninjago island has a counter to these attacks, an anonymous team of ninjas warriors that always mange to defeat Garmadon. This small team of ninjas is led by Lloyd Garmadon, son of Lord Garmadon. Everyone on Ninjago knows Lloyd is Garmadon's son and they hate him for it, but they don't know he's the leader of this special ninja defense force.



So one day Garmadon successfully takes control of Ninjago which forces Lloyd to use the secret ultimate weapon that is guarded by their Master Wu (Jackie Chan). The ultimate weapon that Master Wu said specifically not to use. So Lloyd uses it and brings forth a giant live action cat. Yes that's right, the evil force in this movie is actually a part CGI, part live action cat which then proceeds to destroy Ninjago island. Now they must all work together to stop this destruction. Can you sense the family angst and woe!

So firstly the cat, yep I hated that, truly. The finale in the original movie which exposes the Lego world to merely be a kids imagination was brave and I appreciated that, but I still didn't like it all that much. But this really turned me off, having an actual live action cat be the deadly force that is destroying the city. Twas like watching something outta South Park or Monty Python. It doesn't look tacky or anything, it just seemed like a lazy and shit idea. To top that the main (supposed) villain of Lord Garmadon is utterly pointless really. There's no point in this character at all except for some gags. There doesn't really seem to be any reason for him wanting to take over Ninjago, other than he just can. And his dastardly evil lair is a volcano island which sits virtually right next to Ninjago. Its almost like they're not even trying anymore.

I think the main issue with this movie is originality and lack of it. The young team of ninjas are obviously something of a send-up on things like the Power Rangers; but they're still just as corny and clearly trying to actually be them to appeal to that specific audience base. You still get all this naff stuff like their names 'ninja of ice', and having their own individual giant mechs, everything being colour-coded, and of course all the hokey martial arts tomfoolery that's just been done to death oh my God!!! There are just cliches upon cliches in here and I know its deliberate but that's not really an excuse because even that angle has been done to death. How many parodies of the same shit can you possibly do??



Of course the visuals are a treat with these Lego movies (or any animated movies these days). Part of the fun for someone of my age is seeing all the retro Lego pieces popping up. But ultimately the visuals are terrific, full of life and tiny details (I like how almost every part has the Lego stamp on it, or a part/piece code). I also have to give kudos to the imagination on display despite it all being unoriginal overall. They have both captured and ripped-off many genres very well, or however you wanna look at it. The only issue being (as with the other Lego movies), its very hard to watch action sequences because its so in your face and hectic. It just becomes a blur of colourful CGI flying about the place, kinda like the Transformers movies. I mainly refer to the large mechs here.

Yes there is a lot of humour in here, some of it childish naturally, some of it for folks of my age...appreciated. I admit to liking the little swipes at popular pop culture, the little parodies of other movies, the odd bit of crude toilet humour, and simply mocking genres. I liked how Garmadon explains his origins, being bitten by a snake that had in turn been bitten by a spider, hence his four arms. The team attempting to hide in the bamboo forest was a nice little giggle. And I also liked Garmadon's henchmen/women were all simply regular people but in different silly outfits eg. shark, octopus etc...Not sure why they were all ocean lifeform based but whatever. But there does come a point where you feel, like everything else, you've seen and heard it all before. There is only so much you can do before it just becomes mundane.

The Lego Batman flick had a shit-tonne of movie parodies and send-ups which was cool, but you can't keep just doing that. And this is the real problem with many movies these days. The Lego movie was an original concept that worked brilliantly at first, but they're milking the feck out of it and bottom line, its showing. These movies are now fast becoming a highlight reel of mini parody sketches, and nothing much else. That would be fine for freebies on You-Tube or whatever, but you can't keep doing movies like this. Bottom line all the cliches in the book were mocked, mocked good...again; but that in itself is still cliche. There's nothing new in this, time to move on.

6.5/10

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

























Holy spandex we're back with another Spider-Man movie. The Raimi movies came to a grinding halt after a well rounded start, and the Marc Webb movies (hehe Webb) never really got off the ground. So Marvel stepped in and secured a deal with Sony to gain back the rights of Spidey, sort of. We were then presented with yet another Spider-Man reboot but this time under the guidance of Marvel (along with Columbia, Amy Pascal and Sony).

The plot pretty much does exactly what anyone would expect it to do really. The only difference being this time they have skipped the whole origins part of the tale. We jump straight into the story with Parker already established as Spider-Man (something everyone knows because it follows on from 'Captain America: Civil War'). We do get the origins of this films villain, Adrian Toomes/Vulture, and we do get a lot more of Parker amongst his young high school buddies. But bottom line, Toomes is trying to scavenge Chitauri technology (from 'The Avengers') so he can build and sell advanced weapons. Toomes is essentially an arms dealer and Parker must stop him, the end.

So initially we are introduced to Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his men as they salvage Chituari technology. They are stopped and ordered to cease their work at once by the Department of Damage Control (a partnership of Tony Stark and the US government). This pisses off Toomes and he asks his men to stay with him so he can build a powerful suit...and make weapons illegally. Firstly this entails a large operation which I'm not too sure how Toomes manages to keep under wraps. Secondly, why would his men stick by his side knowing they are doing illegal shit? OK they need work, but illegal work? And they help Toomes build his all powerful Vulture suit...why?? Surely alarm bells should be ringing with these blue collar guys by now.



From here its back to school with Parker (Tom Holland) and his amazing bunch of diverse friends. Yep just like Star Trek this movie has taken the tokenistic route by literally representing every group of people with each character. Nothing wrong with that but it always tends to come across as a little too on the nose; a little bit too perfect looking. But anyway in this movie we have a young girl called Zendaya playing a spunky character called MJ who isn't the classic MJ we all know of. Yes for some reason the powers that be thought it would be cool to play with everyone's mind by making us think they race swapped MJ. But then they went and race swapped Flash Thompson for real so...hurray? Of course to blend in with present society this MJ is a kind of weird emo SJW type who refuses to go up the Washington Monument on a school field trip because she claims it was built by slaves...ugh!! Thing is no one actually knows for sure if said monument was constructed by slaves, so this line comes across sounding very smug and stupid.

The idea of updating Flash to a more nerdy looking, book smart, spoilt, wealthy rich kid was a nice idea but ultimately it just didn't work. Flash needs to have a bigger frame than Parker for this confrontation to work, visually at least. Although Tony Revolori did a fine job he just didn't come across as threatening in any way and the whole idea just fell flat. I realise they went for a more fun jokey angle but it just didn't work, for me anyway. I mean they could of at least cast a bigger person surely. Then again we have another character with the same name as the original comicbook character (Ned) but we aren't sure (yet) if its the same person. But seeing as this movies Ned is played by a rather large chap (Jacob Batalon), and in the comics Ned becomes the Hobgoblin, I'd say it isn't the same guy. Liz Allan, Parker's love interest has also been race swapped, oh and they also race swap Shocker within the movie for good measure.

As for Holland's portrayal of Parker/Spidey, is it the best version thus far? Yes I'd say so, but mainly because he is just about the correct age, and looks it. This has been the issue with previous Spidey movies, the fact that Parker/Spidey just looked too damn old and was also too damn moody. This time they have successfully captured the light-hearted, youthful, bubbly, optimistic side of Spider-Man; heck you could almost see speech bubbles popping up over his head every time he spoke. So yes overall Holland has the youthful looks, he genuinely looks fit and athletic (not overloaded with muscles), and his acting chops fit the bill perfectly. My only issue would be his suit which was way too over the top with Stark technology. Drop all that gadgetry and we're good.



But lets cut to the chase here, there was only one stand out element in this movie and that was Michael Keaton as Toomes. I'm gonna be brutally frank here, most of this movie was a wash, rinse and repeat scenario in my opinion. Yes Holland is the perfect Spidey and yes the visual are of course good. But the main action sequences were the same shit we've all seen before. Hero saves his friends from disaster. Hero saves a load of people from a big disaster, in this case stopping a ferry from splitting in two which was basically ridiculous in so many ways. Hero faces off against guy in super suit. Hero saves the day with more carnage at the end...yet no emergency services turn up? Usual Marvel hero quips throughout and Happy Hogan was an annoying asshole.

This movie was all about Keaton and his creepy yet grounded performance as the Vulture. Yeah OK the Vulture is essentially Doc Ock in this movie, its the same basic thing just replace tentacles with wings. But by Jove does Keaton nail this roll, its like he was born for comicbook roles. He goes from an average blue collar boss to a somewhat maniacal villain, and then to a loving father and family man, all in one fell swoop (no pun intended). The fact that Toomes own daughter starts dating Parker is obviously the highlight of the plot. The sequence where Toomes sniffs Parker out whilst driving him and Liz to their school prom was crackling. In fact this was probably the best sequence in the movie, although I found it odd that Toomes recognises that Parker saved his daughters life and vows to never forget that. Yet he then proceeds to threaten to kill Parker if he messes with his plans further. Errr...he saved your daughter remember? I guess he does Parker that favour by not revealing his identity later on.

So yeah, as I've already said. In general, overall, this movie didn't really do much for me simply because I've seen it all before now a shitzillion times. Not only in other comicbook flicks but in other Spider-Man flicks! I genuinely can't understand how so many people get so excited over a movie that is essentially the exact same thing as before, but with a different villain. You could literally swap Spider-Man and the Vulture out of this movie with any other comicbook characters and it would be the same spiel, the same beats. At this point wash, rinse and repeat is an understatement. Yet! The movie is saved by one man, and that man is Michael Keaton. Yes Holland is good but Keaton is better and without him this film would be completely forgettable. As it stands its not entirely forgettable, that is until the nex...oh too late.

6.5/10

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

























There was a time when this franchise was thought to be finished. There was a neat little trilogy which ended quite sufficiently story wise. The main two actors were getting on in years, there seemed to be no real reason to go back to this well. Funny, we find ourselves in that very spot yet again, apparently.

So back in 1997 Warner Bros had a bad summer with its crop of releases. The studio needed a big hit and fast, and that safe bet was the Lethal Weapon franchise. Alas things did not go overly smoothly with an unfinished script and short production time. The actual script was never completely locked down and changed throughout the production. Regular character Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) was brought back after initially being kicked out, whilst new character Butters (Chris Rock) was also introduced late in the game (being gay originally). Its worth pointing out that the movies ending had also not been written when the cameras started rolling for the first time.

So this time the plot moves away from drug smuggling and into people smuggling. The lads stumble across a Chinese immigrant smuggling ring being run by some Triads. These bad guys are forcing one specific Chinese man (who clearly has some special skills) to engrave plates to create counterfeit Chinese money. In exchange for this the Triads are bringing his family to the US. Murtaugh and Riggs find themselves helping this specific family whilst trying to crack the illegal smuggling ring. So essentially its the same thing all over again, just swap out drug shipments for people shipments.



I think the main issue with this movie is the fact it lacks action, for an action movie. There is a huge focus on the characters and their family lives here, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does get a tad dull. You don't really feel like you're watching an action movie, more like a TV comedy series. Overall I felt the movie struggled to keep things interesting. That being said, this movie did take a surprising turn back towards the original in terms of being somewhat darker, both content wise and visually.

Both Riggs and Murtaugh are getting way too old for this shit. Riggs spends most of his time complaining about how old he's getting, and we are indeed shown how old he's getting in a few scenes. Where as Murtaugh is quite frankly past it, you're left wondering how this guy is still working on the force...in the field! The duo no longer come across like a mismatched pair of cops, but more like a mismatched pair of old fogies having a fun day out from their retirement home.

Lorna Cole (Rene Russo) is also back but has now been reduced to a background character that is pregnant. She is no longer kicking ass with a smug grin on her face, oh no. Now she's lurching around slowly, heavily pregnant and stuffing her face with all manner of foods (because pregnancy equals cheap food gags). Whilst on one hand this angle is further expanding the story for both her and Riggs, it does kinda spoil her character. I really don't think we needed to see that, surely they could have set the movie after she had the baby?



As said Leo is back too and just as daft as ever. This time Leo has become a private eye so now he has a badge and can kinda get in on the action legally. Again its the same scenario with Leo Getz, he's a funny character but way way too stupid for this type of flick. Well that's what I would be saying but we all know this franchise turned into a slapstick comedy affair so technically he fits in fine. Its just a shame that they had to fall back on old jokes (a common problem with sequels). Did we really need another 'they f*ck you at the drive-thru' gag? Sure its amusing but you mean to tell me they couldn't think of anything new?

New character Detective Lee Butters (stupid name) is secretly getting married to Murtaugh's daughter (who is also pregnant) which is one comedy aspect to his characters story. The other being the new comedy double act that arises between him and Leo. This starts up by Leo inadvertently mistaking Butters for a perp and Butters taking offense, making it racial etc...From there on Leo thinks Butters is too touchy and Butters is always ragging on him. This was a neat little set up but its tainted because you know perfectly well its only in the movie to serve Chris Rock's stand-up routines. At the time Rock was the new comedic sensation in the USA and clearly that got him this gig. Bottom line, Rock was badly miscast and stuck out like a sore thumb. Every time he spoke it just felt like part of his stand-up act, like the movie pauses just so he can have his little spot.



Again the villains in a Lethal Weapon movie aren't all that intimidating or threatening. The Chinese bad guys here were generally faceless (as usual) except for Uncle Benny (Kim Chan) who was too old frankly. The actor playing him really didn't come across as if he could actually act, whilst his character just doesn't do anything (probably because he looked around 90 years old. Think old man Lo Pan in 'Big Trouble in Little China'). Then you had Jet Li in his first American movie, and first role as a bad guy. Now where as Li is perfectly fine as the mysterious silent bad guy, he's clearly too over-powered for the movies protagonists. Yet at the same time he's still not that overly intimidating, he's more like a deadly monk. He didn't even dress like a baddie.

And herein lies another issue with this movie, the main bad guy is just too powerful. During the movie we are shown how strong, agile and skilled Li's character is. Yet in the finale battle between Riggs, Murtaugh and Wah Sing Ku, the good guys win. Its a typical problem with many similar movies. The highly skilled martial artist bad guy can defeat just about anyone effortlessly, but can't beat the aging good guys. This literally makes a mockery of the entire movie really. Not to mention the quite ridiculous moment when Murtaugh saves Riggs from drowning in the final showdown. Talk about movie magic and suspension of disbelief.

In the end this late entry in the franchise felt completely unnecessary. Merely milking the last few drops out of the franchise whilst they still could; whilst the actors were still just about able to pull it off. Did it work? Was it unnecessary? Well yes and no. Overall the movie definitely looks better, moodier, and felt a bit darker/edgier in tone. It certainly feels more like the franchise of old rather than the cartoonish third sequel. But that said it simply cannot escape the feeling of being somewhat unmerited because they kinda tied everything up OK in said third movie. All the soppy family guff we get at the very end was basically not needed, much like this movie truth be told. But surprisingly its actually better than the third movie.

6/10

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)

























This movie opens with one of the corniest and cheapest looking opening title sequences I've seen. It literally looked like they were trying to rip-off a Bond movie, especially with the sultry Sting song over the top, which was also a bad choice. Add to that the poor and also cheap looking text/font design, and you had something that simply didn't look right for a movie of this supposed caliber. It looked like something for a straight to DVD job.

After the horrible looking title sequence we yet again leap straight into the action. Bad boy Riggs and old man Murtaugh are in the middle of a bomb situation. Against orders Riggs talks Murtaugh into going inside a large office block to try and defuse said bomb. Essentially what follows is a small comedy routine between the duo as Riggs messes around whilst fiddling with the bombs wires. And Murtaugh basically acting like anyone would (kinda) and panicking. Again this sequence is basically setting up the rest of the movie, its telling you what to expect, and that's lots of cringeworthy goofy comedy.

Riggs fails in trying to shut off the bomb. They run from the building as it explodes and crumbles in on itself completely. As the dust and debris settles, the guys look up from their hiding position behind a nearby patrol car. They notice the destruction they have caused, the heap of rubble that used to be a building. They then notice a small group of cops who begin slow clapping, mocking them. The guys duck back down behind the patrol car. Riggs, wide eyed, murmurs to Murtaugh, 'oops!'. Murtaugh responds, 'yeah, oops'. And that pretty much sums up the level of comedy we're dealing with here. One word, predictable (as fuck).



So this time the mismatched duo (who are now not quite as mismatched as they once were) must take on an ex-cop who's turned evil. Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson) was an LAPD lieutenant who is now smuggling arms in LA. Yes it not drugs this time, that was sooo 80's. The main issue with this smuggling is the discovery of armour-piercing bullets. Kinda self explanatory really but just in case...bullets that can pierce body armour. A real problem for cops. Luckily Leo is back and conveniently knows Travis. Also we get the introduction of another character into the fray, a woman this time. Lorna (Rene Russo) from internal affairs is also on the case, much to Riggs displeasure. Sexism, always a winner for comedy.

We know Riggs and Murtaugh pretty well and nothing has changed much for them (Riggs still has a mullet, Murtaugh is still old). Lets look at Lorna Cole, the new character to make up the new trio. Lorna is basically the 90's version of girl power, female empowerment for the time, which was limited. She was blonde, smart, sassy, and could kick major ass. She was kinda like a sexy tomboy for Riggs to play with. And looking back that was kinda the problem with that character, she was clearly there just for Riggs to fall in love with. Sure she was tough and didn't need Riggs help in a fight, but she was only there to diversify the all male cast and be Riggs love interest. The scene where the pair are comparing battle scars kinda sums this up really. Lorna clearly has an interesting backstory, her scars testify to that...but who cares about that?? Lets get it on! (obligatory sex scene).

Now we know Leo (Joe Pesci) from the last sequel, and in that movie he was light relief but still a relatively sensible character. Well unfortunately in this movie Leo becomes a full cartoon character. Now I like this character, he's an amusing sidekick well performed by Pesci. But here's the real problem, like this movie franchise this character starts out grounded, relatable. But as things progressed the character became more and more dumb. So on one hand you have an enjoyable, decent character that (originally) added to the movie. But on the other hand he becomes a complete buffoon later on down the line and its really hard to deal with (even to the point where he's accompanied by his own comedic buffoon-esque theme tune). Its essentially the story of this franchise in the character, starts out grounded, becomes a farce.



Then you have the issue of a poor villain...again! Jack Travis isn't really much of a bad guy, he's not intimidating, he's not threatening, and he looks like a grumpy football coach. This guy isn't even hidden away much, we know he's the main bad guy also from square one, so not much tension. Unusually he doesn't even have any recognisable henchmen. Yes he has lots of faceless henchmen that are merely cannon fodder, but no one who stands out. What's more, because he owns a construction site, all his henchmen seem to be...builders? Because he also wants to...construct a housing estate?? And this is in between pinching weapons and ammo from police stations to sell on the black market?? Wut?? Why did Travis go rogue by the way? How did he go from real estate to arms smuggling? Meh...don't question it.

The movie does offer more insight into Riggs and Murtaugh's relationship I'll admit, nothing amazeballs but its in here. One of the strongest scenes has to be where Riggs and Murtaugh fight. Murtaugh accidentally shoots dead a young kid who was friends with his son. This kid was involved in a drug deal and was on the road to becoming a gangster basically. Old Roger takes this hard (for some reason) and goes off the deep end. Riggs obviously has to try and get Roger through this ordeal and that does offer a very emotional sequence of truths for both characters, but mainly Riggs. Its powerful, and it continues with another scene at the dead kids funeral where Roger confronts the parents.

One does understand the parents grief, and one does understand Murtaugh's remorse. But I personally stand with Riggs, this kid had a deadly weapon and was fully prepared to use it. Either Murtaugh shoots the kid, or the kid would have shot Murtaugh. The other issue with this entire subplot is the fact its not actually required. There is literally no reason for this entire subplot other than to add some gravitas. It does nothing to forward the actual main plot and feels completely crowbarred in.



Apparently Donner wanted to cut and tone down the action sequences, focusing more on Riggs and Murtaugh, and boy can you see this. The movie really does lack bite. There are some decent looking set pieces for sure, such as the ice hockey sequence and the fiery finale. But overall its seems like there are fewer action sequences. What we do get is once again very fake looking in terms of noticing stunt doubles, background extras and vehicles performing obviously, obvious rigged up sets and live action spaces etc...There is more hand to hand fighting which showcases Lorna and her martial arts, clearly a stunt double. It is daft how Riggs, Roger and Lorna can enter a baddies premises without a warrant, start snooping, and then proceed to beat the occupants up. Bad guys or not, its really unbelievable, and of course to simply showcase Lorna's badassery.

Alas once again everything had been somewhat watered down to fit a more wider audience. This being the real problem with many later sequels in adult franchises that had gained massive popularity. The action was generally very safe, more big stunts, no blood, not much real violence. It did feel like the only real adult stuff left were the odd moments in the police station where all the cops fooled around. There are some nice little sequences here which do present some very good group performances. Its also really by this point that Murtaugh has been reduced to the butt of a lot of (admittedly giggle worthy) old man jokes and nothing more.

Eventually we do reach the end and naturally its all tied up with a nice bow. We are treated to a sequence that harks back to the original movie and the not so shocking news that old Roger isn't gonna retire after all; and Riggs is now an item with Lorna. At the time we all thought this was the final movie to finish the trilogy, how stupid and naive we were. At just under two hours long (for some reason) this entry really felt like it was just going though the motions. Almost like it was obligated to do so. Just chuck out the same spiel all over again just to finish the trilogy and milk that last bit of moolah before the two stars get too old. Its passable but entirely forgettable.

5/10

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

























The inevitable sequel cometh. The same mullet, the same tormented aging family man, the same scenarios, and the same car; Murtaugh's family station wagon. Yep despite the car getting wrecked in the first movie, Murtaugh has the same car for the sequel. Well this time its actually an Oldsmobile (previous was a Ford) but I'm sure its suppose to be the same car seeing as it looks identical.

Anyway enough about the details of a family station wagon, what happens in this escapade? Mismatched cops Riggs and Murtaugh are now the best of pals and a top crime fighting partnership. Despite being a real pain in their superiors ass with all the damage and paperwork they cause, they always manage to get the job done. Right so this time the plot gets a bit political, well a lot political frankly (for the time).  Yes once again the duo are after the arch nemesis of the 80's, drug dealers. But this time the baddies turn out to be headed by a South African diplomat/consul. To be more precise, the Afrikaner Apartheid Government of South Africa. These diabolical villains are smuggling cocaine and are slowly preparing to return to South Africa with their nasty ill gotten gains.

I think the opening action sequence kinda sums up the movie for me, it shows you what to expect for the rest of the run time. Riggs and Murtaugh are chasing down one of the South African bad guys (Mark Rolston). The good guys are driving the family station wagon, the bad guys in a BMW. Somehow this crappy station wagon is able to keep up with said BMW for the most part. Then at one point Riggs gets out and pursues on foot, as he did in the first movie. Riggs then gets back into the station wagon and drives it up against the highway barrier causing much damage, to Murtaugh's anger and despair. Yet in the next shot there is no visual damage to be seen. It all ends with auto carnage and a helicopter appearing outta nowhere to save the bad guys.



In short this movie ejects the darker grittier aspect of the first movie and instead ops for overblown action and goofy comedy. Once again Shane Black was brought on to helm the script and once again he produced what you would expect Shane Black to produce. The studios rejected Black's work for being too dark and violent. Apparently the studio and Richard Donner wanted to take the franchise into lighter territory, more comedy. Instead they went with a script by Jeffrey Boam which either cut or watered down much of Black's work.

Unfortunately this comedy aspect is really really obvious throughout the entire movie, to the point where it becomes annoying. Now don't get me wrong, there is a lot of super decent action in this movie and the mismatched pairing of Riggs and Murtaugh still holds strong. Its just a shame they turn the gritty duo into a goofy comedy act duo. There are so many scenes of silly dialog between the characters which are admittedly amusing but at the same time, it just feels too much, they just go too far with it. Easily the funniest scene in the movie has to be the TV commercial for condoms with Murtaugh's daughter. That scene is genuinely amusing and played out perfectly. No problems, it fits the bill; but then you have the entire toilet bomb sequence. Its supposed to be thrilling and emotional, showcasing how close Riggs and Murtaugh have become. But at the same time its basically one big gag which ruins any impact its supposed to have.

Its in this movie that we also get the introduction of a new character to the team, sort of. Joe Pesci turns up as Leo Getz, a slimy, greasy little conman who laundered a billion Dollars for the South Africans. He's now in the witness protection program which Riggs and Murtaugh have been assigned to (especially for Getz). Now in this movie little Leo is actually a somewhat solid character. Pesci's performance is terrific fun (can anyone say 'fuck' better than Pesci?) and he is actually a good addition to the movie. The character adds a nice comedy element which isn't over the top; in turn he comes across as relatively realistic. Its just unfortunate they really wreck this character in the next movie.



Then you have the action sequences which have naturally now become really big and slick. Take the main car chase sequence where Riggs and Murtaugh go after an assassin that just tried to off Leo. The entire sequence is bold and clearly looked good on paper. In reality (looking back) its a mixed bag because everything looks so fake. For a start the car chase is clearly going very slowly, but using a pickup truck towing a car what do you expect. Secondly the stunt doubles are far too obvious. You can clearly see at multiple points its not Gibson. And lastly the ending is so stupid and it didn't even work. The surf board that flies through the air and supposedly goes through the bad guys face, yet you can clearly see in the shot that doesn't happen. Terrible editing and effects for a daft conclusion.

The bad guys for this sequel are definitely more menacing than the first I think. Admittedly Joss Ackland's elderly South African consul Arjen Rudd isn't overly intimidating, he merely comes across as a grumpy grandfather if you ask me. He also doesn't really do much other than stand around looking grumpy and barking orders. Its his henchmen that are more dastardly I think. This is mainly because they aren't totally faceless and useless. We do get to know some of the henchmen by face which adds a bit more zing when they fight with the good guys (if they're faceless hoods its meaningless, who cares).



The lead henchman Pieter Vorstedt (Derrick O'Connor) is the real villain of the bunch though. O'Connor really has the perfect look for this character with his scrawny, wiry frame and gaunt face. He looks evil, he is merciless, brutal, and packs more punch than you'd think. I also liked how he's dressed in retro/dated attire that does fit with old school South Africa, the schoolboy-esque blazer and tie look. Vorstedt was easily the best thing in this movie, a really solid villain. Its also worth pointing out that these villains were also racist in this movie. Yes they even used a derogatory word most commonly used in South Africa. God knows if they'd get away with that now (doubtful) but it most definitely adds to the realism and emotional impact when things get heated.

Overall this movie is a hard one to judge really. Its both enjoyable but totally flawed, annoyingly so. Looking back there are so many tiny mistakes such as the length of Riggs hair from scene to scene. The obvious stunt doubles are horribly obvious. The stunts are often very obvious meaning its just too easy to tell where its all been set up, cornered off etc...People and vehicles in the background give the game away far too easily, and the big car jump out of the cargo container in the docks looked like something out of a stunt show. In other words these sequences didn't really blend in, they stuck out. Then there's the nagging question of why Riggs never uses his martial arts skills anymore, remember he had those? And what is it with his constant wearing of red or blue shirts? Is there a hidden meaning behind those??

Its one of the best, if not the best, comedy action movies of all time. But alas its also one of the biggest disappointments in terms of watering down a sequel from its far grittier, darker, superior original. Its up there, but it could/should of been so much more.

6.5/10

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Lethal Weapon (1987)





















This movie opens with the classic Christmas song Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms. Yes that's right this classic action flick could also be considered a Christmas movie as it takes place over the festive season. This is one reason why its always kinda reminded me of 1988's 'Die Hard'. Its seems Xmas was a popular backdrop for action flicks back in the 80's.

So what is this all about? Well back in 1985 Shane Black wrote a screenplay for an urban western inspired by 'Dirty Harry'. In typical Shane Black fashion the script was quite long and excessively violent. Cutting a long story short, after numerous rewrites from various people (including Black), the script was eventually bought and offered to Richard Donner. The final result was (I believe) the first buddy cop flick to really light up the box office; and I believe the first flick to kick-start the whole buddy cop genre, to establish the rules almost. Over the years, from this one movie, came a raft of clones that used and abused every idea to the point where they became common stereotypes.

The eventual plot: Its very simple really. Riggs and Murtaugh must battle a heroin-smuggling operation known as 'The Shadow Company' (they umm...smuggle heroin). You see a young girl is murdered and her father (Michael Hunsaker, a close friend of Murtaugh) wants her killers found. But it turns out Hunsaker used to be in cahoots with the Shadow Company, helping them launder their money. When Hunsaker wanted out, the company killed his daughter. So Riggs and Murtaugh run about the place trying to solve this little problem with lots of gunfire and car chases.



Even today looking back, its really hard to not roll your eyes at all the common tropes and cliches that have now been milked dry over time. I had to keep reminding myself that this was literally the first movie to introduce these things. I mean lets look at the basic outline here, one white cop, Riggs (Mel Gibson). One black cop, Murtaugh (Danny Glover). One is middle-aged, ex-special forces, and a complete loose cannon. The other is an older more mature, straight-laced, by the books Veteran of the police force. The loose cannon is of course insane, suicidal (due to the death of his wife); where as the straight-laced cop is a sensible family man. The sensible cop is lumbered with the insane cop as a new partner. At first they don't get on, a clash of personalities, but over time they come to respect each other and eventually become buddies.

At the start of the movie Riggs is essentially living like a bum. He's an alcoholic living in a run down scruffy trailer on the beach. Not quite sure how he's allowed to have a trailer on the beach, surely local laws would not allow that? In the meantime Murtaugh has a hectic family life with three young kids, one of which is of course a coming of age young girl. Riggs is looking to put himself into dangerous scenarios because he simply doesn't give a shit; whilst Murtaugh is slowly becoming older and grumpier, trying to survive until retirement. The latter is exacerbated by a dreary saxophone theme that plays every time Murtaugh is feeling like shit. Again something that has become an action movie stereotype/cliche ever since.

Everything in the movie is basically set up to reflect these character traits. For instance Riggs carries an automatic pistol where as Murtaugh uses an old fashioned six-shooter. The musical score for Riggs is obviously very different to Murtaugh's little saxophone theme. Murtaugh's young daughter takes a fancy to Riggs, much to his horror (a bit risqué these days!). Riggs sports a wild mullet that goes against police regulations and Murtaugh's sensible short back and sides. Riggs dresses casually in jeans and a shirt, Murtaugh wears a suit etc...Its all very corny these days naturally. But of course the basic premise is that both characters save each other. Murtaugh and his family give Riggs a reason to keep living. Whilst Riggs injects some excitement and much needed manly companionship into Murtaugh's life, at a point where he was at a low due to his age.

'guess we gotta register you as a lethal weapon huh'

As for the villains, well its obviously cliche city, but also not as good as you might recall. The Shadow Company is also controlled by an ex-special forces bloke (a regular trait of action movies, everyone is ex-something). General Peter McAllister (Mitchel Ryan) is simply an old bloke with white hair, he literally does nothing except throw some orders around. This character is not in the least bit threatening. His second in command, the über blonde Mr Joshua (Gary Busey), is also not particularly threatening. Unless you count being able to resist getting your arm burnt by a cigarette lighter as scary. Its amusing really because both characters literally do jack shit for the entire movie, Joshua has a fight sequence with Riggs in the finale but that's it!



And why does Joshua and Riggs fight anyway? Out of nowhere Riggs just offers him a chance to fight him, one on one, mano-a-mano. Yeah we know Joshua had Riggs tortured at one point, and shot him with a shotgun at another, but why do we need this fight? It kinda felt like Donner ran out of ideas for the finale, found himself needing something to fill the gap. Its also at this point we discover both Riggs and Joshua are experts in fighting; something you don't get any inkling of beforehand and never crops up again.

In these old action flicks the baddies normally are the cheesiest. For some reason all the multitude of henchmen appear to be middle aged guys in suits, often with odd haircuts, wearing shades. This was basically the norm back in the day for action movies, but its hilarious looking back now. They were also completely useless and couldn't hit the side of a barn door with their automatic weapons. Its also amusing how these guys never seemed to have any sort of personal life, like they all just stand guard over their boss 24/7. And what group of bad guys would be complete without their own seedy bar to hang out in huh. The kind of bar where you can shoot someone and no one blinks an eye apparently.

Then outside said bar, Murtaugh simply walks into a random alley, the very same alley that McAllister is escaping in. They literally cut from an action sequence to Murtaugh wondering around outside and, oh look, there's the bad guy escaping in his car, how convenient! After Murtaugh pumps the windshield full of lead the car hits a bus and inexplicably flips over and explodes (laugh out loud!). Yeah twas cool to watch back in the day but wut?? There are many (now) hilarious sequences like this in the movie, such as the desert standoff. Riggs is on sniper duty miles away, but McAllister finds him?? Where did McAllister come from?? Murtaugh threatens to blow everyone up with a grenade...but as Joshua points out, he obviously isn't gonna kill his own daughter. Then there's the ridiculous escape failure by Murtaugh's daughter. She tries to escape in the car and somehow allows the baddie helicopter to run her into a ditch. She then proceeds to do the obligatory 'get out and run and pretend to fall over' routine.

Its clearly of no surprise to anyone that this movie is by far the best in the franchise. Like many other old action movie franchises the original is the darker, grittier, more adult orientated of the bunch. 'Lethal Weapon' is by no means a great movie looking back. After rewatching I found myself cringing at many of the action sequences, laughing at dialog and attempts at comedy, and generally thinking to myself how a persons opinions change with age (when I was younger I thought this was an epic action flick). I have to be honest and say, I think this movie gets more of a pass simply because it was the first of its kind; the first to kick open the doors and introduce all these hammy action movie cliches. Its actually the Murtaugh family scenes which are more of the highlight now. Watching Riggs react to Roger's old man bickering with his wife and kids. But despite all that, as said, its still easily the best in the series and way better than most modern day attempts.

7.5/10