Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995)

You know I genuinely think Seagal gets a boner wearing military uniforms. Watching him right at the end as the credits role, standing straight and firm, no emotion, its quite cringeworthy really. He clearly loves pretending to be a special forces badass because deep down, he probably wishes he was a real special forces badass so he could preach about it to us mere mortals. This observation obviously comes from watching many Seagal movies over the years where he either plays a special forces badass (ex), or a special military police badass (ex). His roles never really deviate from either of these, he loves it.

So the Die Hard franchise had long been established as probably the best action franchise ever, and naturally there were the usual shittonne of clones trying to ride on the coattails of its success. This Seagal franchise was considered one of the better offerings of the time. The first movie was basically 'Die Hard on a battleship', and this sequel went down the ingenious route of 'Die Hard on a train'. At first it did sound pretty daft because obviously...where is there to go on a train?? How on earth could you run around and hide much on a train full of terrorists? That was the first hurdle for the filmmakers to overcome, the second was the fact that 'Die Hard with a Vengeance' had been released earlier in the year and it had been a success, so how could this clone compete? That movie had reinvented itself and the action flick genre with surprisingly good results, so how the fuck could Steven Seagal top it by doing the same shit all over again but on a train. Yes that's literally the plot, terrorists hijack a train en route to LA through the Rocky Mountains. They kill off lots of train crew, huddle all the passengers at one end of the train and set up their hi-tec weapons gadgetry so they can hack into and control a top secret military government satellite weapon. The bad guys then use the weapon to destroy various targets which other terrorists have paid them to destroy. But the coup de grace of targets is the US eastern coast which Middle Eastern terrorists have paid 1 billion to have destroyed. Can Seagal and his plucky black porter sidekick save the day?

The first major issue with this movie is as I already mentioned, its entirely set on-board a train sooo...what can you do with that? Sure there are obvious scenarios that leap out at you straight away but once you've done that what are you left with? the same stuff wash, rinse and repeat. Not really a good start when you're trying to compete against a far better movie franchise that just reinvented itself. But wait! this train is actually pretty darn long in this movie, its one of those huge, double-decker locomotive holiday type trains that travel huge distances in the US. So actually there could be lots of places for Seagal to hide, technically. Well yes and no, most of the carriages would presumably be the same so that would mean once a bad guy finds one hiding spot, he will know where to look in every carriage. I would imagine the hiding spaces become more numerous in crew carriages but again it does seem a bit hard to believe that Seagal would be able to evade all these guys, there are a lot of them. Not to mention the fact all the action tends to revolve around the same few carriages most of the time, but hey! they have managed on planes right.

Thing is there are other issues, numerous. One of the main attractions with these types of movies is the main villain, the boss and his various henchmen. If you ain't got a good villain then you ain't got a good flick basically and here its average at best. In this action thriller the main bad guy (Dane) is played by some bloke called Eric Bogosian, who even to this day I have no clue who he is or what he's really done. The problem is, or was, he just wasn't threatening at all, he looked like your typical dorky, frizzy haired, school prefect type of nerd or stereotypical computer geek. Clearly they tried to go down the more intelligent bad guy route who uses brains instead of brawn. Well it kinda works but ultimately doesn't simply because he just doesn't look like a villain. All the rest of the henchmen are again your stereotypical faceless, useless cannon fodder types for Seagal to kill in unique ways at various points of the movie. You have the odd token minority bad guy thrown in (straight outta the standard bad guy textbook of bad guy character actors you will probably recognise from other similar 80/90's action flicks) and of course the token female henchwoman just to add a bit of sex appeal (if you can call it that). Only Everett McGill really puts in a noticeable performance as the main villains second in command, a real tough cookie with a bleached, green beret style haircut just to really give off the impression he's well ard! You can see McGill is lovin' every minute of this hokey bad guy shit, he really hams it up with his masochistic baddie. Those facial expressions and deep, slow, methodical badass deliveries! Oh my!

The action is somewhat entertaining but nothing overly special to be honest, you will see much better stuff in other movies. But seriously once you've seen Seagal snap someone's neck on a train a few times, it gets dull you know, where's the variety? Sure there are the odd cool moments like when a bad guy gets kicked in front of the train and run over (terribly obvious fake dummy, not the only one you see either), a few guys get thrown into a deep canyon, errr...Seagal snaps some...oh wait I've already said that. The problem is a lot of this feels very dated, even back in the day it felt dated. The hammy lines by some bad guys just before they kill an innocent person, sure its kinda glorious in a retro kinda way, but at the same time its also bad in a retro kinda way because overall the film isn't of a very good quality. This is cemented by the horrendous effects all through the film. Much is shot on a real loco which looks great, clearly there are real stunts on a real loco that aren't Seagal which is fine, and they don't hold back with the cheesy violence and blood (thank the heavens!). But all of the bluescreen work is awful, simply awful and really poor looking. As said there are also clear moments when its not Seagal in the shot but a stuntman, never good to see. And as for the finale, well...fuck me with a bargepole! I haven't seen anything this bad for a good many years folks, it looks bad, real bad, like...really, really obviously two model trains colliding bad. Add to that the terrible fire effects, more terrible bluescreen work, the hilarious shots of Seagal 'running' through the train carriage as the other train closes in behind him demolishing each carriage one at a time, and the basic fact that some shots actually look unfinished. You have a weird shot of Dane grimacing as he lies next to the track (was presumed dead, but low and behold...), before he inexplicably winds up in the next shot climbing a rope ladder attached to a chopper that's rescuing Seagal. Then the shot of Dane falling from the chopper seems completely unfinished, the effect actually looks unfinished or just plain bad, not sure.

What's really odd about this film is the fact they somehow managed to get Basil Poledouris for the score! Yes that's the bloke who created the epic scores for both 'Robocop' and 'Starship Trooeprs'. Its funny because you can instantly tell it Poledouris's work too, the minute the score starts up over the beginning credits you can hear the similarities to his famous 'Robocop' score. Not complaining as its a solid score, but it is a bit too close if you ask me, rehash sprung to mind.

Anyway is this a good retro action thriller? Well yes and no, its certainly not the worst action flick I've seen, and its certainly not the worst Seagal flick I've seen (Jesus Christ there are some stinkers out there now!). But overall its nothing to rave about to be frank, there is absolutely nothing original here in any way. Admittedly this could be the first 'Die Hard on a train' action flick clone, maybe, I'm not really sure. It is entirely possible that later clones of 'Die Hard' actually cloned this on top of cloning the original genre masterpiece, can't be sure though. But yeah, I'm kinda in the middle here really, its a fun ride, a semi-decent action flick, but the God awful effects let it down badly, the villains are weak which is a major flaw, and they don't really take advantage of the idea if you ask me, it feels underwhelming generally. They couldn't come up with anything more imaginative than that very Bond-esque laser satellite weapon??  Still, if you want a cliched invincible hero, with a cliched goofy sidekick, and you wanna know how to make a bomb out of basic bar/cocktail items and ingredients, then this is the popcorn flick for you my friend.


Thursday, 18 August 2016

Kindergarten Cop 2 (2015)

Despite the rather unimaginative title this is not an actual sequel to the 1990 Arnie vehicle. This in itself is rather odd because why would you name the film 'Kindergarten Cop 2' when its actually a full blown remake? Yes that's right, we have yet another remake on our hands, there is no continuity from the first movie whatsoever. Its only the basic concept that remains the same here, that concept being, a cop needing to go undercover within a school in order to gain information to take down a criminal. The only one difference here is the protagonist has a partner to help him out, sorta.

So what have we got then, basically the same spiel, take away Schwarzenegger, enter Dolph Lundgren. Now when I say the same, I mean all the same beats albeit with some obvious minor changes. Lundgren plays Reed, an undercover cop who developed true feelings for Katja, the woman he was protecting (undercover) on his last assignment. Katja is placed in the witness protection program after the operation ends. Unfortunately the witness protection data has been recently hacked by some clever degenerate (to try and sell to the Euro trash baddies), with only one copy being put on a flashdrive. Said flashdrive was then hidden by the brother (an elementary school teacher) of said degenerate, but said brother was killed in a car accident so no one knows where the flashdrive is. 

At the same time the stereotypical eastern European baddies are trying to find Katja in order to stop her from testifying against them, so they need the flashdrive. Said flashdrive has of course been hidden in the elementary school where the now dead brother worked, hence Reed needing to go undercover in the school to locate it. So unlike the original (where the target was a child) the target here is a simple flashdrive, but the elements are near enough the same. Still, considering this is a dumb, straight to DVD flick, the plot build-up is quite in depth and easy to miss if you aren't paying attention. I had to go back and rewatch as I missed how and why the flashdrive actually ended up in the damn school! I might also add that the film spends at least 25 boring minutes setting up this plot...when all its really about is kids causing chaos for an ageing, 80's action star. Lets be honest that's all you're here to see isn't it.

Right so first thoughts...why can't the police just do some kind of secret sweep of the school, with the schools permission, to locate the drive? Is there really any need to have a cop go undercover?? Anyways, this film really  does play it safe, apart from new gags for the new age most of the beats, as said, are the same. This means everything we see Reed do with the kids feels like deja vu, we have seen it all before with Arnie, hell even with the same lines, 'my sister has a vagina'. There's even a mini subplot about one of the kids and her abusive father, although not that abusive, and naturally one of the young sexy teachers falls for Reed. Whilst this angle was completely predictable and cliched to hell, it also spoils Reed's character. The reason being because the plot already establishes the fact that Reed had/has strong feelings for Katja, despite the fact he brushes them aside. But this entire angle is forgotten when he starts to fall for the sexy teacher, at the same time this also diminishes the stakes somewhat because Reed needs to find the drive to primarily save Katja (amongst others).

I mention stakes, but in all honesty there are no real stakes or threats in this movie, and that's another problem. In the original movie the bad guy was a legitimate threat, here the bad guys are more cartoonish and never really give off any sense of danger. This film being a 12 certificate of course doesn't help either as there is nothing even remotely intense here, the original was a 15 rating here in the UK. The film breezes along with no real edge or excitement, the only bits of genuine fun come in the classroom but even then its mediocre and fleeting. The rest of the time is purely made up with Reed and the young sexy teacher getting to know each other interspersed with the odd cop moment. The whole western themed bar and line dancing sequence was pretty cringeworthy.

The only real clever or reasonably witty part that cropped up was bringing the story into the present day. By that I mean the obligatory and inevitable inclusion of political correctness. Yes the elementary school that Reed goes undercover in is a highly renowned, very expensive, liberal save haven for upper middle class kids. The schools wrestling team is labelled 'the gender neutral wrestling team', Reed discovers that he cannot say certain words like 'retarded' or sitting down 'Indian style'. He also discovers that the schools literature is heavily biased towards PC motives and ideals, he is unable to praise the kids abilities directly but must use certain words and methods, he is unable to correct their spelling mistakes but must encourage 'creative spelling' and of course all the kids are obsessed with eating healthy and their own allergies. In short, the kids are completely mollycoddled with their safe spaces and their lives are totally stifled. Now I believe this was a light-hearted satire of this current political climate...but I could be wrong, made my eyes roll that's for damn sure.

Anyways at the end of the day all this film has done is made me realise how good the original was basically (and it wasn't that good). Lundgren's performance is acceptable as the out of place lunkhead trying to control a classroom full of drooling scroats. He is clearly enjoying himself but he also clearly struggles to act his way through this. I kept getting the distinct notion he would be more comfortable tearing some limbs off someone or blowing someone's head off with a huge sniper rifle. Everyone else is pretty much a non-event and adds little, the fat black police chief is far too cartoonish for his own good, whilst the fat, white, bald, tattooed teacher is also far too odd (would they allow someone with tattoo sleeves to teach in an elementary school?). Generally the plot is way too heavy and plodding when it really doesn't need to be for this type of flick, and most of it goes nowhere. In the end the finale is very weak, non-threatening and you're left wondering what Reed ends up doing, does he continue as a cop or does he do what Arnie did and become a teacher? Dunno, but its not that much of a cliffhanger so no worries.


Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Comedy of Terrors (1963)

Ello gov'na, what's this then, another bit of vintage tomfoolery courtesy of some classic horror legends? By Jove we'll ave some of that then...what! So this popped up on my radar out of absolutely nowhere, never heard of it before, a complete shock...a complete pleasant shock. Apparently this movie is a follow up of sorts to the classic Poe/Corman 1963 adaptation of 'The Raven', which also had the same trio of greats. That trio of course consisting of Karloff, Price and Lorre, only this time the epic Basil Rathbone joins the fray. Not to mention the fact that Rathbone, Lorre and Price all starred together in another horror comedy called 'Tales of Terror' the year before (milking it much?). Anyways, I say follow up, that's only in terms of the main lead cast, this isn't a sequel or continuation of the 63 Corman picture, merely a new project bringing the classic cast together again. Bloody good show! (no pun intended...wait, yes pun intended).

Sooo Vincent Price plays the titular Mr Trumbull, a grumpy, miserable, Scrooge-esque type of rotter. He runs an undertakers business (what else) in New England circa the late 19th century. He has a close personal assistant by the name of Mr Gillie played by the ever kooky Lorre. Gillie is a more submissive, quiet man who tries to stand by his principles and do what is right, alas he is bullied and overpowered most of the time by his boss Mr Trumbull. The dastardly duo con people by dumping their dead loved ones into graves minus their coffin. They then reuse the same coffin over and over for other customers, saving the cost of buying new coffins. Unfortunately business is drying up and Trumbull owes his landlord (Mr Black played by Rathbone) a years worth of rent. So, in order to gain some income, Trumbull decides to start snuffing people out so he can then get the business of burying them. After what promises to be a good start, things start to go awry and the duo end up going after Mr Black. What follows are the humorous complications of Trumbull and Gillie trying to kill off Mr Black whilst not getting caught, trying to keep Trumbull's wife at bay, and hoping ancient Mr Hinchley (Karloff) doesn't dip his little fly in the ointment.

So bottom line, is this funny? Errmm...not really, I mean its not terrible or anything, but its just not particularly funny. Was it funny back in the day? errmm...I don't think it was actually. I can't be sure but the film generally didn't do very well on release and a sequel was cancelled, so I must assume the general public didn't think much of it. Dare I say its quite possible that just maybe the general public might have been a tad bored of seeing these old horrors legends doing the same routine? I don't wanna be put up on charges of blasphemy of anything but the films I have already mentioned earlier aren't exactly vastly different in terms of tone. Essentially they could all be the same movie if you really wanted to believe that, or an anthology at least.

I mean looking at the film, visually it does look cool and atmospheric for sure. Everything we see is generally sets and admittedly you can easily tell its all sets (nothing unusual), but it all looks quaint and charming in its dusty, olde worlde type way. The main location of Trumbull's rented house is clearly a set on a studio lot with a matte painted background, its obvious but cute. The interiors are also clearly sets and they tend to range in quality. Trumbull's house is easily the best looking with vast array of period pieces, props and a downstairs cellar which houses the coffins, all perfectly creepy and weathered of course. Other sets for other interiors looked OK in places with certain props but for some reason or another would get decidedly more ropy as the scene would progress. For instance, the sequences within a big old mansion (lovely exterior matte painting) were fine on the ground floor, but as the protagonists proceeded upstairs the sets and props became more and more fake looking, to the point where it didn't really look like the interior of a creepy old 19th century mansion at all. It just looked like an average shitty set with not very olde worlde looking props, atmosphere gone! To add to the problems, exterior shots are so very clearly in California it hurts, OK I can't be 100% sure its CA, but its definitely not New England that's for sure. Again this kinda takes you out of the movie, one shot spooky 19th century New England, next shot dusty present day (for the time) Californian countryside.

Performance wise again its a bit of a mixed bag really. Lets be brutally honest here, although I love them both and enjoy their kooky talents, both Price and Lorre pretty much do their usual shtick here. Price again plays a total cad and bounder with his famous tash that seems to do half the work for him. Where as Lorre again looks a bit uncomfortable playing yet another whining sidekick that gets pushed around. Indeed his role was actually very physical and demanded a stunt man for many bits of fisticuffs. Alas this was pretty obvious as was the stunt man for Price who was clearly about 20 years younger! Lets not forget Karloff who...well he kinda does nothing really, he plays the old owner of the undertakers and merely dithers around half asleep or deaf. His role feels more like a small cameo just to fit him and make up the grand cast. The stand out performance must go to Rathbone who seriously gets carried away here, he's clearly having a hell of a time and is chewing up the scenery like there's no tomorrow. There are sequences where Rathbone is reciting long pieces of dialog (that I presume are actual pieces from Shakespeare or something...gulp! do I sound ignorant here?) whilst bounding around the sets, fencing, chasing, dying etc...I was genuinely surprised at the amount of energy Rathbone has in this because he's not exactly a young man here, kudos Sir.

As I've already said earlier, the main problem here is one, its not really funny, its kinda falls flat. The pratfalls and general capering are dated (probably even then) and routine stuff, its nothing special at all. Watching Rathbone pretend to die in an overly exaggerated way is maybe amusing for the first time, but not for the umpteenth time. Watching Lorre's stuntman slide down a rooftop or roll down some stairs isn't really funny sorry. Karloff raises a few smiles as the bumbling old man and Price's devilish ways are enjoyable but nothing you probably haven't seen before if you're a fan. Although his devilish, fiendish ways are still top notch if repetitive. The other issue here is the plot, which in all essence could so easily have been a short for an anthology, but its clearly been padded out big time here. So really what we have here is a horror comedy starring three blokes, in the same year which there was also another horror comedy starring the same three blokes. The year before that there was another horror comedy starring the same three blokes! (Minus Karloff, enter Rathbone). The theme through all three movies being horror comedy with similar sorts of tales which people will have seen before. So really you can see why this didn't go down too well in its day. Its not a bad film by any stretch, but its not a wondrous piece of cinema either. Like with many of these old horror flicks, the joy comes from seeing the classic stars, at times the films can be fantastic of course, but at other times the films can be bottom of the barrel crapola...but with a star in it. This film comes somewhere in the middle for me, I think its better than the other two movies mentioned here, but only just.


Thursday, 11 August 2016

Central Intelligence (2016)

Well if you were expecting any kind of originality, or any actual proper action or laughs, then you've clearly walked into the wrong movie (dare I say...decade). So, a new buddy action comedy flick? Oh gee! how many of these has there been now? Well as we all know very well its not about the quality of the movie of originality any more, no, its about the most unusual, zany double team they can slap together. So please enter Dwayne Johnson and someone called Kevin Hart (hurrah!). Yep, a massive bloke with an overly pumped up body, and a very short bloke who screams a lot...so a short Chris Tucker then. Oh the hilarity!

Plot, well first off they start with a good dose of cliched bullshit. Back in high school Johnson's character (Robbie/Bob his fake name, I'll stick with Robbie) was a big fat nobody that everyone took the piss out of, whilst Hart's character (Calvin) was the cool jock type guy. Fast forward twenty years and Calvin pretty much looks the same and has a steady solid job as an accountant. On the other hand, and I know you're gonna laugh out loud at this because its truly, truly hilarious and not at all corny and cliched, Robbie has now morphed into this huge, muscle bound superman who turns out to be a secret agent (and a real lady killer). Well golly gee, did I not see that coming, slapped me right across the face that did. Robbie even appeared to grow to over 6 feet too, not sure how old they were in that high school sequence but boys tend to stop growing at 16 years of age.

So anyway, there are these satellite codes which the CIA are after. They believe Robbie is a rogue agent trying to sell them to the highest bidder. Robbie says that an agent called the black badger is trying to sell the codes and he has to stop said person. But the CIA also believe Robbie is also the black badger and that he killed his previous partner. All the while Calvin can't decide who is telling the truth, and in all honesty, I wasn't so sure either. As a matter of fact, for a dumb comedy the plot was actually kinda confusing and frustrating frankly, it kept going back and forth and was pretty incoherent. I was pretty sure the black badger would turn out to be the head female CIA agent because usually these big twist characters are often women, but was it her?? OOooo the intrigue.

So did this work as a comedy? no, not really. The main issue being it just wasn't very funny. Take Johnson, this guy is likeable, he's amusing, heroic and seemingly a genuinely nice guy, but what else has he got to offer?? I've now seen Johnson in many films and he pretty much does the same shit because that's all he can when he looks the way he does. Yes he can be funny and threatening, but we've seen it, there is nothing new to this routine...which did come across like a rip-off of Arnie's character in 'Twins'.  Another problem is the rating here, its a 12A which means no real action, no real fisticuffs, its all watered down fluff. Sure Johnson can handle this level of fluff but when it comes to beating up other big blokes, taking down blokes with guns, shoot outs, plosions, jumping through windows etc...it just didn't feel right. The editing was poor, the cutaways were obvious, I'm not saying this was an R/18 rated film originally, but its just too obvious that the action had been neutered. Basically even for a low rated action flick this felt way too childish or spoofy. I really think this needed to at least be at the level of 'Rush Hour' in terms of humour and action.

I will admit Hart was a semi decent comic foil to Johnson but that's only in height difference methinks. Johnson is over 6 feet whilst Hart is damn short, so clearly the visual jokes are gonna be rather predictable and again, dare I say...taken out of the 'Twins' handbook of comedy. I don't know much about Hart or his work but he didn't really wow me in any way, I saw nothing special here a tall frankly. Going back to 1998 again, Chris Tucker was way, way more amusing than this Hart bloke, dunno how he got the gig here.

As for the rest, well its all pretty crap truth be told. As said the plot is completely incoherent, messy and dumb, there is no way either of these two would be able to run around as they do when they are wanted so badly. There doesn't appear to be like any police anywhere, ever! There are hardly any consequences or repercussions for anything that happens. Apparently the CIA are able to genuinely torture people in this film! The CIA also threaten Calvin with blackmail over his wife, saying unless he cooperates they'll arrest her, for no apparent reason other than they are corrupt. Yet that plot angle goes nowhere! its brought up for one scene and is then completely forgotten, at no point does the CIA mention the blackmailing again. Then at the end, everything is hunky dory and the duo just forget everything that happened with the CIA! Yeah never mind the blackmail and torture, nothing personal right? I also found the sequence where Robbie and Calvin meet the old high school bully shitty too. Trevor (Jason Bateman) was the main bully who really hurt Robbie with his stunt, yet twenty years later the guy is still asshole? That whole angle just felt really shitty and low, grasping at straws for laughs which it failed in doing.

A missed opportunity? meh...not really, just another cash grab type scenario which doesn't really deserve to exist. Yeah you can let your brain go to the park for a couple hours while you watch this, its not supposed to be anything groundbreaking, its nothing more than pure throwaway, popcorn nonsense. kinda self-indulgent, kinda pointless, I can't believe they actually get paid for this...type situation. Its just a shame that it isn't really a good example of its genre, coasting along...somehow.


Monday, 8 August 2016

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Another quirky parody laced with cruel satire and starring George Clooney, that'll be the Coen Brothers then (or possibly Wes Anderson). 

Set in 1951, the plot follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who works for Capitol Pictures in Hollywood. Mannix's main job is head of physical production which entails keeping films on budget, on schedule etc...But this being the wild 50's Mannix must also contend with the young, rich Hollywood starlets, keeping them in check and out of the tabloids, he's a 'fixer', but in a good sense. Unfortunately for Mannix one of the studios biggest stars gets kidnapped, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), right in the middle of filming a big movie set in ancient Rome. So now, not only does Mannix have to deal with various other issues with other stars and directors, he also has to contend with two tabloid/gossip columnists after a headline, and the temptation of another job offer from an up and coming corporation.

Now if the plot seems rather thin on the ground here, that's because it is, big time! In all honesty there is nothing happening in this film, I was watching and thinking...what is this actually about?? OK so you have Mannix having to work out what happened to Whitlock. At first it appears the guy goes AWOL but in time Mannix discovers he was in fact kidnapped, OK. So then the film becomes a sort of mystery period piece right? well no actually. We don't actually see any detective work at all from Mannix, what we do see are a few sub plots about other stars and how the studio (and Mannix) deals with them. So you have this singing cowboy star who naturally only works in westerns, until the studio decides to change his image and stick him in a lavish drama. Then you have a young, beautiful female swimmer who works in musical numbers. She has a sweet and innocent image but has wound up pregnant out of wedlock, not a good look for the young starlet. All the while Mannix is fending off the Thacker sisters (Tilda Swinton in both roles) who are after a juicy story for their tabloids.

These separate character arcs don't really lead anywhere truth be told, they're just there, spoofing 50's Hollywood. Admittedly the parodies going on are very humorous and I'm sure there is a huge element of truth behind them. For instance, at the start we are briefly introduced to DeeAnna Moran (Scarlet Johansson), the swimmer who is seen as young, sweet and innocent by her adoring fans. Well behind closed doors she smokes like a trooper, she's abrupt, kinda rude and clearly fed up with her job half the time. Hobie Doyle the young cowboy is known as a rootin'-tootin', daredevil of a cowboy who can perform all the cliched cowboy tricks. Well behind closed doors he is a nice guy but clearly a bit naive and possibly simple, plus he can't actually act and has a horrendous southern twang. Then you have Baird Whitlock who is the studios biggest star and is of course shallow, gullible, weak and has a deep dark secret. In fact most of these colourful characters are indeed based on actual real Hollywood stars of their era. But the only real plot link we see is Doyle discovering who is behind the kidnapping of Baird. DeeAnna Moran is in one scene at the start and that's it, was there even any point in this character being in the film? Where as Whitlock is the main crux of the story but he merely meanders (or sits) around in a daze doing very little, portrayed in typical Clooney fashion.

I won't deny there are some excellent scenes in this movie, despite them feeling rather abstract and pointless. The scene where Doyle is shoved into his new role on the opulent Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) drama is an absolute delight to watch. Clearly Doyle is a cowboy through and through, from the way he speaks, to the way he walks and sits, he ain't no upper crust gentleman. Alas this is not quite the image Mr Laurentz wants for his production and frustration ensues for both parties in a glorious little moment of comedy. For laughs this was easily the high spot. On a more visual note you then have the quite fantastic Gene Kelly-esque dance routine with Channing Tatum (playing a mysterious chap). Sounds bizarre I know but this number is actually excellent in terms of choreography, stunts and as a homage to the classic musical/dance routines of old Hollywood. I'm not gonna lie though, I think it was clearly padding because it goes on for some time when really, it didn't need to. Add to that the general look and feel of the entire movie is really authentic and atmospheric, they've managed to really capture that golden oldies vibe all the way through. Not only is this movie visually sumptuous , it also gives you insight into how old movies (and probably present day movies) were actually made. This is a movie within a movie type scenario, you see film sets, crews and stunts all being filmed and worked by fictional crews. So there are shots and scenes which are quite interesting to watch simply because it shows you how a movie set looks and works, more so because its a period scenario.

But at the end of the day is there any real point to it all? Lets take a quick look at Mannix, this guy is being headhunted by Lockheed (yes the aviation company) whilst all this kerfuffle is going on within the studio. Now Lockheed are literally giving him everything he wants with their job offer, better pay, better hours, a job for life and obviously not having to worry about spoilt movie stars anymore. So why the hell is Mannix even debating this?? Why would his wife not jump at the chance? How does this plot even manage to carry on with such a no-brainer of a decision? OK, in his own weird way, the guy likes his job I understand that. But Mannix makes it seem very obvious throughout the film that he really should take the other offer, so as the viewer your left wondering why the movie is being directed this way. Essentially, why are we sitting here watching this movie when it should have ended already. 

So yeah the movie looks great, it does have some fantastic sequences and there are touches of solid humour. I get that the whole film is a parody of the 1950's Hollywood machine (politics included), but was half of this necessary? It just feels like the brothers had an idea but padded it out with filling which, while amusing at times, just feels completely aimless. I also can't help but feel many people may not be overly interested in this because of its content. It all feels a bit like something for people who actually work in the biz, people who live on the west coast, in and around LA, people who know the industry. You might feel like a bit of an outsider missing the in-jokes if you get my drift. Its all very pleasant and charming but ultimately it just feels too much like a personal project for other like-minded Hollywood folk to enjoy, hence why it might seem rather empty for the rest of us. If you can spot him (good luck), watch out for a completely pointless cameo by Dolph Lundgren. Pretty much sums this movie up really.


Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Prince Valiant (1954)

The character of Prince Valiant was created by Hal Foster back in 1937. A long running comicstrip all about the adventures of a Nordic Prince in Arthurian England which had a semi realistic tone. This movie is an adaptation of that comicstrip although I'm not overly sure how close to the original source material it is. Nevertheless it is clear to see that both director Henry Hathaway and Twentieth Century Fox wanted to recapture the visual spectacle and overall glory that WB gained from their Technicolor masterpiece 'The Adventures of Robin Hood'.

The plot is fairly simplistic in its fairytale manner. The Viking kingdom of Scandia is captured by viking rebels led by Sligon, forcing the royal family into exile (King Aguar and his family). Years later, once Prince Valiant has grown into a man, King Aguar sends Valiant to Camelot so he may become a full knight. Of course its not all plain sailing as Valiant stumbles across a secret meeting between the (not so) mysterious black knight and the very rebel vikings that exiled his family back in Scandia. So now not only must Valiant struggle with the rigors of squirehood under the tutelage of Sir Gawain, he must also figure out who the black knight is, what he's up to, and try to convince King Arthur and his knights that his story is actually genuine. Ah the general trails and tribulations of a young, hot-headed Prince in tights, can Valiant overcome all this and complete his families quest?

I think the main eye catching thing about this Technicolor marvel is errr...the marvellous Technicolor! Yes indeed if you enjoy the sight of overly colourful knight attire, colourful flags, banners, royal robes, rolling green hills, fairytale castles and an overall, incredibly cliched view of olde worlde England, then this is the film for you. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not having a go at the visuals here, oh no, in fact they are the best part of the film by far. Its not any real surprise that many of these old Technicolor/Cinemascope flicks were generally all spectacle and plot-lite, or plot simplistic. The stories often basically revolved around a brave, bold, good looking hero saving the damsel in distress, whilst killing off the dastardly, rotten baddie in the process. All in time for a happy ending wrapped in a big red romantic bow. You didn't watch these films for the stories, you watched them because they were a visual feast, a bright, happy, glorious visual feast that literally jumped off the screen in your face. Admittedly these lovely visuals were quite often completely inaccurate or at best, completely nonsense, but you knew to never take them as fact. The studio's quite often took a very light-hearted, whimsical, olde worlde, fable-esque type approach to enhance the action, adventure and romance. Not every time mind you, but in most of these swashbuckling flicks the visuals tended to lean more towards good looking fantasy with elements of realism, rather than hardcore realism.

For a start this movie is an adaptation of a comicstrip, so essentially what do you expect. Of course back in the day these films were taken quite seriously as the equivalent of modern day blockbusters with flashy effects. The youngsters came for the swashbuckling, the ladies for the dashing hero in tights, and the men for the action and pinup actress that would portray the damsel in distress. But I don't think they were ever taken deadly seriously like an epic drama. Anyhow you can clearly see the similarity between this movie and the Errol Flynn flick about some bloke named Hood. Visually its almost bloody identical! All the knights seem to be wearing the exact same gear, the castle interiors are the same (although how different could a Hollywood version of a British medieval castle be?),  the actors portraying knights look like the same people (generic facial hair can do that), and the characters are along the same lines (again, generic). Heck there's even an outdoor scene of jousting that pretty much looks the same as the archery tournament, accept for the jousting of course. Of course the main difference here is the fact we see knights fighting vikings and exterior shots that are suppose to be Scandia in Scandinavia (presumably a different location in and around California, to that which they filmed for Camelot).

One major difference I did notice was the actual use of actual various castles around the UK for external shots, which generally looked pretty good. Again admittedly they didn't quite blend with the obvious sequences shot in sunny California but its not too jarring. I did appreciate these location shots though because the Errol Flynn Hood movie didn't seem to use any authentic locations at all, they seemed to rely more heavily on matte paintings and locations solely in America, and its obvious. Its actually a really glaring issue with that movie, considering its held in such high regard its actually quite amazing. Where as this movie is by far the lesser of the two, you never hear about this movie or its cast, yet it looks way way more authentic with the real locations.

Speaking of that jousting scene, its easily the best part in the film. The whole sequence does look very realistic (and overly colourful of course), it really appears as though they did perform actual jousting here.  Its nothing to get your pants wet or anything but its certainly rousing enough and did look genuinely dangerous for the stunt guys. There is little else action wise for the most part accept for the odd scuffle with knights, a bit of gymnastics as the hero bounds around, and a reasonable finale battle against the viking horde. This final set piece is pretty impressive with the fire effects, or how they controlled it, again it all looked quite dangerous and realistic, especially around the obvious flammable sets. Yeah sure the whole thing is rather predictable and formulaic, the goodies storm the castle while Valiant escapes from his cell within the baddies castle (long story that isn't very complicated, you could probably guess it). Lots of long-horned, helmet clad vikings running around looking like savages with dirty beards, all being rather ineffective against Valiant and his heroism as he leaps around like Kermit the Frog on extra strength Red Bull. Its all looks solid enough as said but eerily similar to other movies of the era, its almost as though they all use the same sets, maybe they did?

As for the casting, well its a mixed bag really, generally I wasn't familiar with all of the players, but the main focus was the legendary James Mason of course. In all absolute honesty, most of them were much like this film, generic and bland, but looked great in their medieval garb. Robert Wagner definitely had the bod for this role, and the looks, but his American accent kinda fucks things up a bit, whilst his acting basically sucks. Sterling Hayden as Sir Gwain was pretty sweet, his ballsy, gruff, no nonsense manner being amusing and charming at the same time. Again he also had an accent issue which is kinda amusing. But of course Mason stole the show as the mysterious but completely obvious treacherous baddie Sir 'made up for this movie' Brack. Not too sure why they didn't actually use a real knight of the time like...Sir Ywain the Bastard, no I'm not making that up. It is totally hilarious how obvious it is that Mason is clearly the black knight, the first line of dialog he speaks you can tell, yep Mason's the bad guy. No surprise at all because Brits always play the villains and Mason clearly looks and sounds like the villain from the get-go.

In the end this movie is certainly a good time, even when it becomes a tad dull you're still engaged because of all the lovely imagery. Yeah there are plenty of silly moments which could be put down to mistakes or inaccuracies. I liked the scene where no one believed Valiant over his claims about Brack and the entire plot, so a duel ensues between Brack and Valiant. Valiant naturally wins, but because Valiant wins a duel, now everyone believes him? He could still be lying you know. I also liked how the baddie viking leader Sligon had his throne up against a curtain in his castle. Very convenient for the plot to stab him from behind huh! You'd think the King would have put more thought into where his throne would sit, like not so anyone can come up behind you and kill you. But yeah I can't complain really, the film was made in 54, things were different, times were simpler, but the visuals were stunning no doubt. If you like these grand old historical epics then you can't go wrong here, it has everything you would expect but just lacks a bit of kick and a really big, stand out star in my opinion.


Monday, 25 July 2016

Hardcore Henry (US/RUS, 2016)

Wow so this is kinda unique isn't it! An action movie with a twist, that twist being some actual originality!! Well colour me surprised. So this action flick was basically filmed in a first-person perspective (FPS) which as I'm sure many of you out there will know, is a widely used term in the videogaming world.  This essentially means we the viewers are watching all the action from the protagonists perspective, virtually through his eyes, making everything feel much more realistic. I do believe this is the first movie to ever do this for its entire runtime, hence its uniqueness. Unfortunately it also means the movie simply cannot escape being compared to a simple videogame and little more. I really do hate it when I have to compare a sequence in a movie, or some effects, to a videogame because it just comes across as cliche. Well imagine my horror when faced with the scenario of comparing an entire movie to a simple videogame!

Aaand this is the problem...its just like watching a bloody videogame!! Aarrgghh!! You just can't not say it! Whilst I completely appreciate the fresh approach and originality on display here, which is indeed a big deal these days, I just can't get around the fact this movie basically feels like a collection of videogame, in-game sequences cobbled together to make a full length movie. Its almost as if they're just gotten a hold of some popular FPS game, taken out all the cut scenes, stuck them together and voila! here's your movie. You could literally do that with any major videogame right now...like Halo. I've haven't felt so divided for some time, I like what they have done, I like the daring approach, it does feel new...but at the same time it doesn't, heck it could come across like cheating to a degree, like its not a proper movie.

Everything about this movie screams a videogame, nothing vastly different from any other silly action fest of course but this movie is in FPS. Lets look at the plot briefly, some dude (Henry) wakes up after an accident in a not too distant future. He has been badly injured and has had his arm and leg replaced with cybernetic limbs which will obviously give him greater strength and skills. All of a sudden the facility is attacked by a powerful albino chap with telekinetic powers and a bunch of tooled up henchmen. Henry is forced to rescue the scientist working on him (his wife) and escape, alas he is not yet on the ball with his special abilities so he does this in a clumsy fashion. Long story short, Henry loses his wife to the bad guy and must utilise the help of a cloned man to help him locate a source to re-energise his cybernetic limbs, then find his wife. To say the plot is weak and formulaic would be an understatement, to say the plot is cliched, unoriginal, predictable and errmm...videogame-esque, would also be another huge understatement.

I mean come on, the movie plays literally level by level, one set piece to another with very little in between. Henry makes his way to a location, meets up with one cloned version of the mysterious Jimmy, Jimmy helps Henry a bit, then gets killed off, Henry fights a load of goons, wins, moves on to next location for next fight (a rails shooter type scenario). Every now and then Henry even gets a small boss character to battle such as a goon with a flamethrower, or a tank. Sometimes Henry comes across a stash of weapons to power-up or gain ammo or health even. At one point Henry even acquires a pair of female dominatrix sidekicks that are able to kickass with their own unique weapons and abilities. Not really sure where they popped up from or why they even help Henry but there you go. Along every step of the way Henry meets up with a new clone of Jimmy in a new guise, be it a pothead, a punk, a British soldier from WWII, a sniper etc...Almost every time the clone version of Jimmy is able to help Henry in that particular situation, think of Jimmy like the Cortana of the movie if you will, the game guide.

Everything trundles along merrily until Henry reaches the climatic end game battle against the main baddie, and some 'Matrix' rip-off sequence where he must fight a horde of clones...but in a less shitty CGI fashion. Speaking of the main bad guy, he totally looks like a videogame character, very much like the lead character from Devil May Cry actually. No idea why he's a super powered telekinetic, unless I missed something? no clue, just the way it is in this future I guess. As for his motivation, well lets just say it involves that age old plot device of cyborg super soldiers and taking over the world, nuff said.

Anywho the action in this flick is satisfying for sure, this ain't no kiddie flick folks, plenty of blood spurting all over the show with limbs flying, necks snapping and bullet holes aplenty. But funnily enough its not the violence that hooked me as we've seen this many times before, its the FPS angle that grabbed me. The simple reason being, and this is just me here, watching this film made me wanna go play FPS videogames, I actually wanted to switch off and go play a game. In fact, the more violent and intense the film became, the more it made me wanna play a game and do the same thing...but with me in control. Now is that a compliment for the movie? well kinda, I guess, but you could also say its not because it made me wanna switch off. Overall I'm saying the FPS angle did engage me for the most part which is positive, but it doesn't last. The jarring visual feast laid out before you does indeed become very jarring at times, almost unwatchable as our protagonist leaps about (if you get motion sickness this might not be for you). And if you probably haven't guessed already (which you no doubt have), the movie does become more and more videogame-esque as you head towards the finale, the sense you are heading towards the big boss fight. As I was watching the final battle I got the feeling I should of been hammering a pad button furiously, button mashing the fuck outta the end of level villain.

So when it all boils down to it, the FPS angle does engage you but it also grows tiresome when you actually wanna see what's happening in frantic sequences. Ingenious as it was to shoot the movie with these little GoPro, head-mounted cams, the obvious issues with rapid head movement in fast paced action sequences makes it hard to watch at various points, although admittedly a bit more thrilling at others. I liked how we didn't really find too much out about Henry, the fact we don't see him apart from a brief glimpse at the end (almost like other famous FPS game characters like Master Chief or Doomguy), although its a shame that all the other characters are completely throwaway. There is an eye rolling plot twist in the end involving the so called super soldiers (they aren't too super in the film) and the villains, I didn't see it but I should have, its all very cliched. So bottom line, it feels like the action genre is being reinvented before your very eyes...but really it isn't. The movie feels like a bit of a gimmick, a bit of a guilty pleasure that does work...for a while.