Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Warcraft (2016)

The world of Warcraft is a massive franchise created by Blizzard Entertainment back in 1994. I say world, but maybe I should say universe because world simply seems too small for this sprawling product. Warcraft is mainly made up of five core videogames for PC's which revolve around; online multiplayer role-play, strategies and digital card collecting. But it doesn't end there, the franchise also includes novels, comics, manga, tabletop games, collectible cards etc...Now some may recognise a similarity to Games Worskshop's Warhammer franchise, and I don't blame you. Legend has it Blizzard originally wanted to make Warcraft a game set in the Warhammer universe, but things just didn't work out. And as they say, the rest is history.

So onto the movie and trying to condense this ginormous Tolkien-esque universe into a reasonable length runtime. Basically what we have here is a story from two perspectives, one from the human side and one from the orc side. On the orc side of things, Draenor, the orc homeworld is being destroyed by a power called fel magic. So the all powerful (and nasty) orc warlock Gul'dan (Daniel Wu) opens a portal to the realm of Azeroth (where humans live). Obviously their aim is to conquer this new realm/world, and make it their own. On the flip side the humans that dwell within this realm are none too happy about this, so they take up arms against the orcs. On the orc side we follow Durotan (Toby Kebbell), chieftain of the Frostwolf clan and a generally level-headed orc. Durotan isn't too sure about Gul'dan's evil plans. And on the human side...well we follow many characters, Kings, knights, mages etc...

Dare I mention an amusingly unfortunate parallel? You know, masses of invaders swarming across a foreign land occupied by a predominantly white people (clearly of medieval European influence). Obviously this is a large coincidence, but the minute it dawned on me I had to laugh.



The huge worry with this movie (for me) was whether or not I would be able to become engaged in the story not knowing that much about the Warcraft franchise. I know of the franchise, the basics, but I've never played the games or read the books etc...I'm pretty sure this would be the general worry for all, how could they squeeze all this information into one opening movie without overwhelming people. What about people who are newbies to the franchise. Well in all honesty they don't really address this problem too well in my opinion as questins are raised almost immediately.

OK so fel magic is destroying the orc world, right...what's fel magic then? Unless I missed it (which is entirely possible) they don't actually explain what this mysterious force is. What happens to the orc world of Draenor? Does it end up being completely uninhabitable? How does Gul'dan know of Azeroth? I realise he's a powerful sorcerer but are these different realms/worlds common knowledge to orcs? Did Gul'dan know that humans lived there? Again I realise Gul'dan is a bad guy but maybe they could of entered Azeroth and used diplomacy? Or maybe he could of found a realm/world that didn't have lifeforms living in it? I know some of these points would negate the whole point of the movie but I'm just throwing them out there ya know.

There were also other small plot devices that just didn't seem too well explained to me. Fel magic seems to be the bane of the orcs, seeing as its destroying their homeworld, yet they also rely on it quite a lot. Gul'dan appears to use it all the time, in fact his powers seem to revolve around fel magic. He uses it to harvest souls from captives (the Draenei, another species on Draenor) in order to power the portal through to Azeroth. He also uses it to save Durotan's baby when it is stillborn. So it does appear that fel magic can be used for many things, good or bad depending how you look at it. But again later on in the movie, Medivh the guardian of Tirisfal (Ben Foster, a goodie), somehow becomes infected with fel magic and it consumes him, turning him into a powerful demon. But why a demon? How does this magic work exactly? Are there any limitations? Does the magic have a natural leaning towards good or evil, or does it depend on who uses it?



Leaving fel magic aside, what about the rest, the visuals? Well I have to say I really enjoyed what I saw, much to my amazement. The orcs do actually look really good in a comicbook kinda way. Let me explain, basically Warcraft has a lot in common with Games Workshop's Warhammer; and Warhammer fantasy has a very comicbook-esque/graphic novel-like vibe about it, I think. By that I mean its very lively, bold, stylised, highly detailed and outlandish. Its all very different to the darker and more serious tone in Tolkien's work. The orcs in this movie have that highly stylised, highly detailed look about them which is both over the top and genuinely fun to look at. I loved how each orc had his own unique armour, some adorned with trophies; weapons, haircuts, horns, facial features, skin colour, battle or clan standards etc...Orc chieftain Blackhand (Clancy Brown) was a good example with his matching trophies of some creatures skull and spinal column upon each shoulder.

The CGI was really solid for the orcs I felt, they really had a lot of weight to them and they genuinely looked intimidating. In turn this did make the battles against the humans kinda daft because I really couldn't help but feel the orcs would/should be squatting the humans like flies. Sure the orcs are slower but the human knights were encased in heavy armour so they would be slow too. Surely the orcs would just sweep through the human ranks no sweat, hell even a horse was no match for a regular orc. I must also give kudos for the design work on the knights of Stormwind, along with all the other characters magical or otherwise. I really liked the costume designs, colours, patterns, armour, weapons etc...It all looked really great, very colourful and again very comicbook-esque. I honesty loved how the knights looked, really brought back memories of The Empire from Warhammer.

I think the only thing that did look completely off in the movie was the character of Garona Halforcen (Paula Patton), half-orc half-draenei (but spoke English?). This character was not CGI but the actress under heavy makeup, or so you would think. Unfortunately this makeup looked very hokey with the silly fangs sticking out of her mouth; it literally looked like they just sprayed her up with green body paint. Mind you the all CGI dwarfs looked a tad iffy too, as did the elves with their long thin ears and glowing eyes. But still despite the amount of CGI in this movie I can't believe I'm reporting that most of it was actually pretty fine. Much was obviously CGI but nothing terrible, your standard large CGI creatures/animals were all passable if obvious. I did quite like the large wolves the orcs rode, again harking back to my Warhammer days here.



I'm not gonna lie and say this movie was plain sailing, far from it. There are a shit load of peculiar names, magical terms, species/race names, location names etc...that will confuse and disorient you. Many of the characters will refer to places, events and characters that will mean nothing. Much of the time you will forget who's called what, or who or what they're talking about (unless you're a fanboy of course). There is a large cast here and their characters all have generally odd names. Some of the cast don't really work, some surprisingly do, but overall the choice to use mostly unknown or little known actors was a very good decision, voice work and live action.

Whether or not the hardcore fanbase was pleased with this I don't really know. Would a newbie to this world be engaged? I think so yes. I firmly believe this fantasy does tick all the boxes most fans of the genre would expect to see, on a satisfactory level. Durotan is a likeable...umm...greenish monster, a solid late in the day hero. Gul'dan is your typically evil pantomime-esque villain with a deep gravely voice (also covered in lots of bone trophies and horns). Garona does the divided loyalties bit with aplomb. Ben Foster's wizard Medivh spouts enough mystical mumbo jumbo to please any avid Dungeons & Dragons fanboy. You've also got a stoic King and Queen, and of course the main handsome hero (and poor mans Aragorn) Anduin Lothar, played by Travis Fimmel.



The movie isn't as wide in scope as the Tolkien universe, it does feel a bit confined to a few locations, mainly some interiors and battlegrounds. You can see a lot in the visually pleasing backgrounds, but that's all you get, pretty backgrounds. You never really feel like this world is explored much. The action is brutal and fun, but not bloody or gory which was a bit disappointing with all the mega sized orc weapons. The heavy CGI is excellent in places but somewhat insubstantial in others (there is of course a tonne of flashing, glowing magical effects and greenscreen). And lastly the main problem is the array of human characters that are generally generic and lifeless, in short you don't really care about them.

Yet despite the numerous faults with this huge huge fantasy franchise undertaking, I liked what I saw. Yes as strange as it may seem, I did like and enjoy this movie...and I can't quite put my finger on why. Probably the combination of the visuals, various details and some lovely bits of stylistic flair from director Duncan Jones. Wrap all that in a nice warm blanket of nostalgia from my old table top Warhammer gaming days; and I actually find myself liking this bloated CGI stuffed Hollywood blockbuster.

7/10

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Underworld: Blood Wars (2016)

Over time this franchise has virtually become a mirror image of the Resident Evil movie franchise (the crappy live action franchise not the animated franchise). Both formulas have become almost identical to the point that you could simply swap out zombies with either vampire or werewolves and no one would notice or care. And of course the big question for both is how they have managed to keep going??

OK so I'm not going to explain the plot here simply because that would require going over all the previous movies and I simply can't do that. Why? because I cannot remember what happened in the previous movies and I'm not gonna rewatch them. The same argument can also be used for the Resident Evil movies coincidentally. But don't worry because this movie actually recaps all the previous movies in a somewhat lengthy flashback with added narration, so you're all covered. But put simply, lots of vamps and lycans fight each other amongst a multitude of double crosses and character plot twists.

The first thought that hit me as this movie get into gear was how bad it looked, what a come down from what has come before. In general this movie looks terribly dull, washed out, dreary and unexciting. Now I realise the whole point of the movie/franchise is to look like this because its a gothic action horror series. But here's the thing, all (or most) of the previous movies had interesting and imaginative visuals and ideas. You could see the people involved wanted to showcase the gothic magnificence of the story with lavish sets and costumes, unique camera viewpoints, creative action sequences and some genuine classic horror vibes. But as the franchise has progressed these elements have slowly drained away leaving this totally drab and frankly cheap looking fifth entry.

The first action sequence is a shambles of obvious greenscreen, an obvious set, terrible transformations and CGI lycans, CGI blood spurts and tired action. The entire sequence looked like it was made for TV or straight out of a videogame. Dated and cliched remark there I know but there is no other way to describe it. Things don't really improve from that point either. Most of the makeup for the vampires is obvious with their straightened hair, highlights and shadow. All the vamps look like fashion models whilst the lycans look like a bunch of hobos or eastern European gypsies, still. No one ever seems to change their outfits apart from the women who change for every scene (except Selene who never gets out of her catsuit). But more importantly the whole movie is just so boring looking. Its like they had limited locations to shoot on with a limited budget. There is not a single scene or shot that looks interesting, cool or has a nice traditional gothic vibe about it. Its all just a series of badly envisioned sets saturated in a limited colour palette of black, grey and dark blue.



As for plot points, well holy shit this becomes a convoluted mess fast. Most of the main characters in this movie are either a secret lover of another, or a secret child of someone else important, or they're double crossing someone. I kid you not it all becomes such a mess of character names and backstory it doesn't surprise me that there are so many flashbacks to all the other films for assistance. To top that you're never really quite sure if a certain character has actually died or not, which of course is deliberate (sequels!!).

Lets talk about the new vampires we meet in this movie, the Nordic vampires. Yep you guessed it, they are Nordic, which is Scandinavian, which instantly makes people think of blondes and snow. Yes that's right, all the Nordic vampires have blonde (or platinum blonde/white) hair and eyebrows and they all dress in flowing white robes (because snow is white and they're in the snowy region of Scandinavia. See how that works). This section of the movie was genuinely laughable. The vamps looked like elves from a certain fantasy novel, they all used basic weaponry (no guns). There was also a never-ending supply of them apparently, and they carry out some underwater ritual or meditation that gives them teleporting powers (I didn't get it). Of course Selene eventually goes through this when you think she's dead (don't be stupid) and ends up with said teleporting powers...oh and blonde highlights because new movie, new look!

For a movie about vampires fighting werewolves there is certainly a lot of fighting between just normal looking people (with guns, lots of guns...and hoodies, lots of hoodies). There is of course lycan action but the shit CGI mixed with how apparently useless they are made it all seem rather pointless and uneventful really. Lycan chief Marius seems to be some kind of úber lycan or hybrid, not really sure but he has a humanoid face when transformed. Naturally despite him being HUGE and muscular he still doesn't tear off Selene's head in the first five seconds of their face-off. I don't understand how or why he doesn't do this. I also don't get how Marius and David (vampire chap from last flick) can expel bullets from their bodies yet none of the others do the same when shot. Is it something to do with how many bullets or vampire/lycan hierarchy and strength?? I'm sure I've been told at some point but cannot recall.

So was I disappointed with this new entry in the never ending battle between vampires and werewolves? Well its hard to answer that really. On one hand no I wasn't disappointed because I knew exactly what to expect, as I'm sure others will do to. I knew very well how it would look, feel and play out. I also knew very well that it would finish leaving the franchise open to carry on further. I would say I was left underwhelmed by the movies lack of imagination, vision and excitement which up to this point has been the franchises saving grace. Yes we know it will do the same thing all over again but come on, at least look good doing it yeah.

3.5/10

Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
















'What am I gonna do, get a bunch of criminals together to fight the criminals? That's a stupid idea'

So in the Lego universe, an unknown distance (at this point) away from what we witnessed in the first Lego movie, the city of Gotham exists. Within this city Batman and his allies battle the forces of evil on a regular basis, except on Sundays maybe. The forces of good have gotta have a day off right?

Well as usual it looks like the Joker is at it again with his criminal cohorts and their naughty antics. Whilst trying to detonate a bomb under Gotham City, Batman and Joker face-off. Unwittingly Batman appears to destroy the Joker's delicate feelings when he starkly informs the Joker he isn't his arch nemesis. In fact he doesn't even need the Joker, the criminal isn't as important in Batman's life as he thinks. This hurts the Joker more than anything that has come before and causes him to review his strategies. The Joker plans to show how important he is to Batman, how vital he is in Batman's life, and this will require a cunning plan of deception.

What I really loved about this movie was the raw exposure of Batman's life, his true existence. And by that I mean the fact he's essentially a bit of a loser, a loner, clearly narcissistic, a manic depressive, has maybe a touch of OCD and is quite possibly a bit unhinged. Bottom line we see right away that Batman does indeed need his enemies to survive, he does indeed need the Joker to give his life purpose. This is highlighted fantastically with the sequences in the Batcave where we see vast open spaces filled with technology and gadgets that could be used by a team of superheroes. Then again in Wayne Manor where we see Batman rattling around in large echo filled rooms all by his lonesome, except for the aging Alfred.



I loved the small bits where we see Batman preparing his lobster dinner, then eating it on his own. He then proceeds to his own personal cinema to watch his favourite Tom Cruise movie ('Jerry Maguire') on his own. His laughter again echoes around the empty room exposing his self-imposed solitary confinement. Its also during these sequences we start to see some of the sweet references to all the previous Batman movies. Admittedly they did kinda look the same (unavoidable) but I simply couldn't help but smile as I saw the brief visual flashbacks from every Batman movie in Lego form (except the 1966 movie which was live action).

Its these references to other movies, TV shows, modern pop culture and the humour that, for me, made this movie so enjoyable. Essentially the plot wasn't important, it didn't really need to be, and besides, it was always gonna be the same spiel anyway. This movie was basically a chance to look for easter eggs and have a laugh, and with that I wasn't disappointed. This movie is loaded with obvious and not so obvious nods to so many things. I liked how in between some scenes we saw the classic spinning Batman logo from the 1966-68 Batman TV series. The legendary shark repellent makes an appearance (again from the 66 Batman movie). There are naturally many recognisable Batman suits to be seen in the background at various stages. At one point we see the Burton Batmobile and Nolan Tumbler. The classic John Williams 1978 'Superman' score is used very very briefly and we also get visual nods to Jor-El (in Brando form) and Zod (in Terence Stamp form). There are many lines of dialog from previous Batman movies used here such as 'where does he get all those wonderful toys?'. There are also many many tiny nods with names being used, visual appearances, links to comics and the animated series etc...I could go on.

Another thing that I really loved was the inclusion of so many supervillain characters. Something that could normally be seen as a bad sign and set off alarm bells, works just fine here. Why? because the plot is daft and meaningless and its all about the comedy and visual recognition. Yes we see a shit load of villains who have literally nothing to do but be seen in the background or say one line or complete one task. Who cares! in this movie it just doesn't matter because its literally like watching a child play with his toys (ala the first Lego movie). The fun part is firstly just seeing all these wacky characters in Lego form, secondly then Googling their Wiki to find out more about them. Zebra-Man? Kite Man? Clock King? Condiment King? Calendar Man?? Seriously??? I love it!!



One little niggle though, something I didn't really get or like. All the villains in the Phantom Zone were villains/baddies (dinosaurs?) from other movies such as 'Jurassic Park', 'Gremlins', 'Harry Potter' and the old Universal monster movies of the 20's - 50's. Why? I don't get why they used these characters because it kinda took me out of the whole superhero vibe of it all. Of course I know its because Lego covers virtually everything and if they can use the license they will, but I just didn't like that idea. Why couldn't they just use more from the huge catalog of DC characters? And why wasn't Zod, Ursa or Non used as main villains? They show Zod but don't utilise him which was an odd choice frankly. I'd much rather see him used than Dracula for heavens sake. Also, why does the Joker look more like a demon? He has pointed teeth and again an odd choice in hairstyle.

This did all lead me to ask myself one thing though, seeing as the first Lego movie established this Lego universe as merely a young boys imagination (I believe that's how it went if I remember correctly). Does this mean that everything in this movie is also merely a young child's imagination? Would it be the same child? Seeing as this is a spin-off and linked to said original movie, I must assume its all a child's imagination at playtime.

Anyway that aside, I did enjoy this movie, more so than the first Lego movie methinks. The voice work from the multitude of actors was again spot on (just like the first movie). Obviously Will Arnett as Batman wins hands down because its just so damn amusing to hear Batman talk about regular everyday stuff in that gravelly macho voice. It all looks sharp, colourful and gorgeous. That Lego stop motion animation is so endearing although a tad frenetic at times, and the comedy overall is pretty much pitch perfect. There's stuff for the kids, stuff for the adults and plenty of stuff for the fanboys and nerds. Normally I'm not the greatest fan of modern pop culture references and trendy in-film songs, especially on overload. But this movie shows how it can be done well without being annoying.

8/10


Sunday, 6 August 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)




















I always said after seeing the first movie that it should have been kept as a stand alone, a one off action flick. Yes the movie was a surprise hit out of nowhere but does that mean you automatically whip out a string of sequels which could potentially ruin the films name? When something does well (unexpectedly), should Hollywood proceed to milk it dry? Slowly drain away the imagination and originality until only a cliched predictable shell is left ('Taken' much?). There's nothing wrong with having a good stand alone movie with no sequels.

With that we have the second chapter in John Wick's rather stressful life. It now appears that Wick has an outstanding debt, of sorts, with an Italian crime lord called Santino D'Antonio. In this world of the hitman there is such a thing called a marker. A medallion containing a sample of blood from both parties, basically a blood oath or pact on an agreement, or hit. Previously Wick had gone to D'Antonion for help, now D'Antonio wants the favour returned. Wick being the stubborn fool he is goes against the oath and promptly gets his house blown up and he is forced to take the job. Once the job has been completed, and D'Antonio naturally double crosses him, Wick sets his sights firmly on revenge.

The movie starts off a few days after the events of the last movie. In that we see Wick tracking down his precious Mustang muscle car to the brother of Viggo Tarasov, one Abram Tarasov (Peter Stormare). Abram obviously knows of Wick and his skills and comes across as somewhat worried and regretful. Abram knows Wick wants his car, he is clearly concerned about what may happen with Wick, yet he doesn't tell his men to stand down? This just seemed rather odd to me, Abram obviously doesn't want to die, he doesn't want the trouble, so why not just give Wick his car? Let him come in and take it, no worries. Of course that doesn't happen and we get what appears to be a rather pointless action sequence. Seeing as this subplot goes absolutely nowhere (including the inclusion of John Leguizamo's character again), it was indeed all pointless.



Once we get into the core plot things become much more familiar, and by that I mean repetitive and unoriginal. The job he must undertake as part of the marker agreement with D'Antonio involves Wick going to Rome to assassinate D'Antonio's sister (another crime lord type person). Naturally this all takes place at night and within some sort of outdoor clubbing event. Cue lots of flashing neon lights, a live band, people dancing around frantically, scantily clad ladies and a thumping soundtrack. This seems to be the bread and butter of locations for hitmen to frequent in movies.

Its also here that we get the first real action sequence from Wick that we have now come to expect. And by that I mean Wick running around whilst somehow not getting mortally wounded and taking out an absolutely absurd amount of henchmen. I swear its like watching a live action sequence from Operation Wolf or Time Crisis (videogames). Literally every faceless henchman is utterly useless and never seem to aim for Wick's head. There is a never ending stream of these dumb henchmen who never seem to hold back or move in tactically (considering they outnumber Wick 10 to 1). And all the blood is really obvious CGI which just looks lame.

Along with that (or before that) there was the inevitable James Bond-esque guns, gadget and general weapons sequence where Wick tools up. I don't really need to explain it as its pretty self explanatory. What I don't get is why Wick needs to do this. The amount of men he kills, who in turn drop their weapons, Wick basically has unlimited guns and ammo. He need only pick them up off the ground after he's killed the henchman.



As the movie progressed it just became even more ridiculous in my view. Wick keeps on taking knocks, blows, cuts and eventually bullets, yet he still manages to continually take out all his opponents. Over time Wick must start to fend off numerous other assassins also (because of the contract D'Antonio puts on his head) which gets daft as they pop up everywhere. Hell we even get a giant sumo wrestler trying to take out Wick at one point. This really spoilt the movie for me because there were far too many hitmen and women coming out of the woodwork. The final sequence of movie really highlights this nonsense, is half the population of New York undercover assassins now or something?! And all the while regular folk never really notice what's going on, no one ever freaks out, we never see any cops...like what the hell???

I also fail to see how Wick can get anything done because literally everyone in the business knows him, everyone! How on earth can this guy be so stealthy and lethal when he's so flippin' recognisable?! Anyway the plot pretty much reverts back to the exact same idea we saw in the first movie, which I guess was to be expected. I have also noticed a pattern with Wick. Every time he gets into a scuffle he seems to do the same thing. He'll shoot a guy but not kill him outright. Throw or wrestle him to the ground with a fancy move, then take out a couple guys approaching. And then he'll finish off the guy he's got pinned to the ground. The question is why? Surely this is wasting energy and not particularly efficient...but I guess it looks good on camera huh.

I didn't hate this movie, there are some really inventive elements which I liked. The whole Continental hotel idea was something I liked from the first movie and the expansion of that idea was well done here. I do like this idea of aristocratic blokes running these ultra posh hitmen hotels like some kind of gents country club. I like the whole Continental hotel operation and how it runs with its many secret separate branches that cover all fields. Sure we've seen it all before with Bond and more recently with 'Kingsman: The Secret Service' but for some reason it never fails to intrigue. But that's as far as it goes for me, the rest is basically the same guff we saw in the first film but not as slick looking. The fights didn't look as good, the CGI blood was dreadful, and of course this second movie lost all the originals wow factor.

5/10

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Ah a freshly rebooted monsterverse, no not that dark monsterverse...that's some other rebooted franchise wannabe. This is a different rebooted monsterverse from Legendary Entertainment, not to be confused with the multitude of other cinematic universe franchises, failing or otherwise (ugh!).

As this is yet another reboot attempt Legendary and its director decided to go a slightly different route for this monster mash. That slightly different route was setting this movie in 1973 towards the end of the Vietnam War. Basically everything you'd expect to happen in a Kong movie happens here (bunch of military and scientist types go to explore mystery island, find monsters, double cross, fight for survival etc...), but its in 1973 during Nam. Now I initially thought this was quite a neat idea because it was different, and because they did a really good job for the first half of the movie making it look like a Nam war flick (loved seeing all the retro gear).

But dare I say that maybe, just maybe, they went a tad too far in trying to make this Nam element look as authentic as possible. As I've already said the movie does look great, they have recaptured the mood of many Nam flicks perfectly with the grubby visuals, presumably using a specific type of film to get that retro look or just fiddling with it in the edit. You could easily be mistaken for thinking you were watching a Nam flick from the 80's. All the regular Nam cliches and stereotypes are all present and correct with the soldiers and their goofing around, their personally modified military attire, their language, the sweeping camera moves to capture helicopters in flight, the way the soldiers ride their vehicles etc...It all looks really really good.

Thing is I couldn't help but think to myself, this is a King Kong movie, not a Nam war movie. Are you trying to make a monster mash movie here or just recreate the Vietnam war era? This leads me to another little peeve of mine, the soundtrack. Again, I realise the movie was set during Nam, I realise the director and co were going for an authentic vibe, but Jesus Christ the constant music playing became annoying. Yes we get it, this is during the Vietnam war, you really really didn't have to have the soldiers playing music for the start of every new scene. Overall I just thought they were trying a bit too hard with this section of the movie.

Anyway, the Nam section comes to an end and we enter the meat of the movie. We reach the mysterious Skull Island that is shrouded by a massive swirling storm, keeping it hidden. OK so the storm has kept the island hidden from sight but you're telling me no one had ever seen this massive storm before? No one has ever ventured into it out of scientific curiosity? And how does this perpetual storm remain in place?



Skull Island itself is a lush Jurassic Park type affair that is infested with all manner of giant beasties. From huge spider-like insectoids with legs that look like bamboo. Another giant bug-like insect that can camouflages itself as a felled log. A giant squid living in the island waters apparently. Mega sized...errr...ox? And of course the main beastie baddies which look like large reptilian creatures with an exoskeleton covering their faces (Skullcrawlers). The creatures were imaginative and well designed but more importantly believable. Although, you still have the issue of when these creatures battle each other there doesn't often appear to be consequences, initially. When Kong fights the large reptilian Skullcrawlers (or anything) he's throwing them around, beating them with tree trunks, stomping on them etc...but they just keep getting back up apparently unharmed. The old tactic of throwing the opponent happens often in these movies, we see this in superhero flicks too. Of course Kong eventually kills his opponent but they like to drag these things out.

The same can be said for the human characters that whip out their guns and barrage these creatures in a hail of bullets. Yet nearly every time these creatures don't appear to be affected by the gunfire (which I don't understand). No matter how big or powerful the gun, they never seem to do anything against these monsters, yet the humans keep relying on their guns. Its like...don't they see the guns are having no effect? I realise that's all they've got but dude come on, stop firing and get the hell outta there. That's not to say it isn't exciting to watch, its just dumb at the same time. Its kinda like the numerous times that Kong appears out of nowhere and surprises a human character. How in the hell does an ape of that size manage to casually walk around and not draw attention to himself? At the same time how could anyone not know this mega sized, 100 foot tall, bipedal ape was coming in their general direction??

As for the human characters, well they're all a predictable, dull, hollow bunch really. Samuel L. Jackson plays the patriotic military leader who's basically gone a bit off the rails seeing his men killed by Kong, thusly he is obsessed with killing Kong. Yep despite all the odds this guy simply doesn't take no for an answer, he's gonna take down Kong and that's that. Tom Hiddleston plays the good looking, heroic, macho adventurer in a tight t-shirt that can do no wrong and saves the day. Brie Larson is merely the attractive female that still manages to tame Kong even in this movie. Something that felt completely outta place and crowbarred in. John C. Reilly is your standard marooned bearded bloke who's gone a bit loopy (kinda like Alan Parrish outta 'Jumanji'). And John Goodman plays the devious Monarch official who lies to everyone about going to Skull Island (he's basically Burke outta 'Aliens'). Then throw in some random diversity box ticking for some other background characters who literally didn't need to be in the movie.



We do see the native people of Skull Island and their home but unfortunately that is not explored in any real way. We get hints at their lifestyle, how they somehow survive, their culture etc...but nothing more. They are just there to help the plot along. Most of the US troops are faceless expendable monster fodder bar one or two, but you don't really care about any of them. One soldier decides to kill (or sacrifice) himself towards the end, no clue why he does this, he just does presumably because the director thought it would be cool? I dunno. Then in the climatic battle between Kong and the mega (Queen?) Skullcrawler, I noticed Kong somehow manages to rip out the creatures innards with the same hand he's holding Brie Larson in. Or so it seemed to me.

I haven't mentioned the visuals simply because you should all know by now they will be good, very good. Kong looks incredible, the other creatures look incredible, the island looks beautiful and the action is extremely agreeable. There is also a reasonable amount of blood and gore here too which was a nice surprise, certainly not for the family this one. Overall you don't actually get much Kong for your buck (much like 'Godzilla') so there's that. Although the finale throwdown is highly gratifying (lots of throwing being key here). You obviously spend much more screen time with the human characters, but alas they are all pretty throwaway in my opinion. There are too many characters, we don't get to know them and in the end you simply don't care about them. The off-kilter humour at times also did not help.

If I can say this, the 2014 'Godzilla' movie felt like a slightly more sensible affair, a touch more of a monster action thriller vibe about it. This movie has more of a comicbook vibe about it if you ask me. It felt a bit more silly and leaned more towards something like 1995's 'Congo', mixed with bits of 'Apocalypse Now' or any number of Nam war flicks. And of course we have the usual issue of this movie coming across more as filler for a bigger better movie later on down the line that features a famous giant reptilian monster. That's not to say this was a bad movie, its not, its essentially about King Kong punching and destroying stuff, how is that bad? Well its not, its fun and it looks cool. Unfortunately that's about it, overall its very shallow, tonally mixed and is clearly riding Marvel's coattails...but I did enjoy it.

7/10

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Return to Horror High (1987)





















No this isn't a sequel despite it really really really really sounding like one. Much to my disappointment I must add because this movies title sounds cool and very much in the same vein as classic horror comedy franchise The Return of the Living Dead. Well that's what I thought anyway, I thought, gee this sounds like a cool classic 80's horror gore fest, I wonder if there's a movie called 'Horror High' that came first. Little insight into the way I think there for you all, well actually my reviews kinda do that any way don't they...moving on!

The plot is a simple horror concept. Back in 1982 the small community of Crippen, South California was rocked by a series of grisly murders within the local high school. The killer was never caught. Years later a film company comes to Crippen high school to make a movie about the horrific incident. Unfortunately the same killer is still on the loose and starts his old habits yet again on the film crew. So as you can see this is a pretty generic horror movie concept.

But this movies plot is a bit different in a few ways. Firstly almost the entire plot is told in flashbacks from the narrative of a police investigation taking place after the incident. The bulk of these flashbacks come from the police interviewing the last survivor. At the same time there is a film-within-a-film (found footage) element from the film company as they film their horror movie. The plot jumps back and forth between these plot lines making you the viewer unsure if you're seeing a real murder or a murder for the film-within-a-film.



But all that aside, what is the movies big selling point now? Its stars a very young, curly haired George Clooney. Yes Clooney is in this movie...for around five minutes before being unceremoniously killed off by the unknown killer. Admittedly I wasn't entirely sure if this was a real kill or pretend for the film-within-a-film but that is made clear later on. By that I mean, when its a fake kill the sequence always ends panning away with us seeing the crew filming or the actor breaking his scene. If the kill is real that simply doesn't happen and its more eerie.

In that sense the movie does feel more like a series of set pieces or shorts because its all so fractured. The plot is really quite incredibly jumbled and you're never entirely sure what's real and what's not. Half the time everyone kinda comes across as play acting including the cops doing the investigation. One female officer leading the investigation seems to be constantly aroused and eating at the most inopportune times, its really quite odd. The film-within-a-film producer is played by the legendary Alex Rocco which does add much gravitas but at the same time he feels completely miscast. You get the impression he was simply cast for his movie star status because he does very little else except act frustrated and walk around.

The rest of the cast are completely hit and miss really, just faceless actors doing their bit that anyone could do. There isn't really anyone pulling everything together, giving the movie any real punch, it all feels so meh. The visuals throughout are really drab and mundane, they don't utilise the high school enough for maximum horror effect (not until they venture into the basement at least). The kills are rather boring, predictable, no sloppy 80's gore, nothing to engage you. The actual killer reveal is a typical Scooby Doo-esque turn that is so flippin' hokey, not entirely predictable but not exactly shocking or exciting either. To top that the killers mask is a blatant rip-off of various other classic iconic horror movie killers.



All in all it was hard to know what exactly this movie was suppose to be. It wasn't particularly scary, it wasn't particularly funny anywhere, its definitely not for kids but I wouldn't say it was for fully grown adults either. Fully grown adults wouldn't find this very engaging methinks. It felt more like an attempt at a smart horror comedy for teens and young adults, but it just fails miserably. The final twist in the tale makes no sense simply because you'd think the cops and paramedics would have sussed it right away (surely?!). That in turn then puts doubt on whether there was a killer in the school or was it all a hoax. I think the killer was there but the others simply missed it, I'm honestly not sure.

This could almost be an early forerunner to the Scream franchise, its similar in idea and tone but simply not as clever or witty. Its a shame because the movies poster and title both have that classic 80's vibe and promise. Alas it all looks cheap and tacky, its thoroughly convoluted and thoroughly dull.

4/10

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (aka Vynález Zkázy, CZ, 1958)

























This black and white film is based on several books by Jules Verne but primarily his 1896 book Facing the Flag. The basic hook of this film being the unique approach to the special effects by director Karel Zeman.

The plot sees a gang of pirates kidnapping a professor so they can get their hands on his new invention. Said invention being a powerful new weapon combined with special liquid which they want to use for their piracy. The pirates manage to kidnap the professor and one of his assistants and take them to their hidden base (inside a large remote hollow island). There the pirates provide everything the professor needs to build his weapon. In the meantime the assistant manages to get word to the outside world eventually leading to a British fleet arriving to deal with the pirates.

The combination of live action and various forms of animation and effects were the way Zeman created his vision. Although this was not the first time he had taken this approach for his work. Zeman's 1955 film 'Journey to the Beginning of Time' also used a combination of live action, animation and hand drawn elements. The animation and effects in question for this film were stop motion animation, matte painting, miniatures, three-dimensional props and texture superimposition.

Indeed the visuals in this film are quite astounding to say the least. I reckon most would be amazed to know this film was made back in 1958 as it could easily be a modern movie. Its not too hard to imagine Tim Burton being the director behind this feature with its steampunk imagery. Yes that's right I did say steampunk, this film could well be the first introduction of the popular Victorian steampunk/gothic subgenre (inspired by 19th century industrialism). If you take the visuals from Disney's 1954 movie '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea', put them in black and white, and then add the artistic style of using parallel lines (almost like cross-hatching with ink) across all props and sets, you have an idea if what to expect here.

The stark parallel line imagery was in fact Zeman's attempt at recreating the old Victorian line engravings that were featured in the original Verne novels. This style actually works wonders in giving everything a very detailed and used appearance. The whole world we see in the film looks worn and weather beaten, as opposed to looking shiny and new. A technique we all know has been used effectively by a few directors and their movies in years since. The technique also gives the imagery depth and a grand old fashioned vibe which admittedly predominantly comes from when the film was made. Altogether it makes the whole affair look like a living comicbook or moving picture book.

To be honest the film does come across as more of a living comicbook than a movie really. All you get is basically one scene after another showcasing a piece of machinery, or a vehicle, or a landscape etc...Its literally like watching panels in a comicbook one after another. There is very little dialog, sometimes narration, and sometimes nothing other than the moving imagery and the noise it makes. At times its almost like a silent picture but with fantastic visuals. I really can't stress enough how stunning this film looks at times. Sure some of the shots look a bit shaky, some look almost too much like an illustration, and in some the stop motion is pretty jerky. On the flip side some shots with live action elements are remarkable because you can't see the joins! The blend of the actors against moving three-dimensional props and background/foreground mattes, or drawings, is flawless. Overall considering the age of this movie what they achieved is incredible.

Of course being a film based on Jules Verne you can't not have underwater sequences with the inevitable attacking giant squid. Its these sequences which mainly make up the most impressive and fantastical visual elements of the film. The imagination shown in these sequences is spectacular and have clearly helped inspire other filmmakers. Watching the various oddly shaped submarines (some with flipper-like paddles) and personal underwater pedal bike things, which the deep sea divers use, is glorious. I could feel my mind being cracked open...letting my imagination escape and run free. Apart from the slightly dated stop motion animation these sequences also highlighted some little errors which were amusing. Such as the divers moving perfectly normally underwater using their weapons normally. Also one sequence where a sub manages to find and pick up the hero from the seabed seemed a bit fortuitous and ludicrous. All in all its still impressive how they managed to convey the deep sea with mere sets, hand drawn props and a slightly wavy blur effect across the whole image.

With a story based around pirates, mysterious islands, nautical swashbuckling, Nemo-like machinery and dashing Victorians in uniform, what more could anyone want? Beautifully lavish visuals that have clearly been given tonnes of attention; Zeman seems to have been a perfectionist for sure. The final results are clear to see. The plot may be thin on the ground but for anyone who appreciates the art form of stop motion animation along with ingenious high fantasy imagery, then this is for you.

9/10

Monday, 24 July 2017

The War of the Worlds (1953)




















H. G. Wells The War of the Worlds is probably one of the most famous and influential science fiction stories in literature. The story has spawned films, radio dramas, TV adaptations, comic adaptations, videogames and even a record album. One of the lesser known works highly influenced by Wells work would be 'The Tripods' by John Christopher. This itself was adapted into a BBC TV series in 1984 which has since developed a strong cult following.

Of course the most infamous adaptation was a live radio broadcast narrated by Orson Wells in 1938. The story was presented in a news broadcast fashion which in turn led to many many listeners actually thinking it was real. Can't blame them really, if you think about it back then the radio was all people had. No internet, very little television, and what was on TV would have been extremely limited. So if a serious sounding news bulletin comes on informing you about destruction from unidentified objects, chances are you'd believe it.

But its this 1953 movie that is probably the most well known adaptation of Wells story the world over. Not only was this a loose but solid adaptation of the book, it was also an excellent science fiction film in its own right. For the time this movie was groundbreaking with its special effects, effects that earned the team an Academy Award in 1954. What is incredible is looking back you'd think the effects would be pretty hokey these days (much like many sci-fi movies of the era), but surprisingly they still hold up relatively well.

Of course the film is adorably cheesy and quaint, can't avoid that. The feature begins with the typically standard 1950's sci-fi narration accompanied with black and white stock footage. This footage shows us military technology as it progresses through the years, mainly through both world wars. It then cuts to colour with the movies title and then to a series of matte paintings of every known planet in our solar system. The narrator (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) informs us about each planet and its hostile environment, basically why the martian invaders would want Earth (but how would the narrator know this? Is the movie a story being told to someone by the narrator? Is the whole ordeal a flashback?). Anyway my point being the film unfortunately still relies on stock footage but also includes some lovely matte paintings.

The meat of the effects comes with the alien invaders themselves, although there were issues. Obviously for starters we all know the classic look of the Martian machines, huge towering tripods. Well at the time the effects crew had problems trying to create the three-legged machines so it was decided to alter the design. I have never really been happy with this look though, I realise there were technical limitations at the time so I'm not angry or anything, but the Martian machines just looked awful in my opinion. They essentially looked like a hovering, crescent shaped platform with a long periscope sticking out on top. They never really looked intimidating to me, more flimsy and fragile, and the green colour scheme was just ugly.

To make matters worse (in my humble opinion) the effects team did actually include the tripod legs...only they were force field legs and invisible. If you strain hard enough you can actually see the imprints (with a small pyrotechnic touch) in the ground as the machines move. Alas these look more like small explosions from shells or whatever than imprints from tripod legs. You can also see the wires holding the machines up in some scenes, which was amusing.

Indeed the chaos and destruction seen on the movies posters are well imagined in the film. The model Martian machines slowly hover down city streets (some live action, some models), their wires quivering. At every opportunity they unleash their devastating heat-rays from their cobra shaped periscopic eyes. Brilliant flashes of white heat that reduce damn near everything to rubble. Oddly though, at first the heat-rays reduce military equipment, vehicles and men to either piles of white or black charred ash (or just nothing at all). Yet when they take to the city streets the same doesn't seem to happen to buildings, they just crumble and catch fire. Theoretically there should be nothing left standing other than mounds of charred ash. Everything you see is a frantic blur of various effects such as superimposing, models, stock footage, matte paintings etc...That along with the terrific sounds effects for the alien weaponry (think Star Trek: TOS photon torpedoes) and you have some great sequences of action.

The actual aliens themselves were a real achievement also. The level of detail on the rubber puppet was incredible for the time. It had veins, skin texture, skin folds, and it was moist which gave it a more realistic 'living' look. Sure they look silly now but considering this was all done in 53 its extremely impressive for the time. I think the one main visual flaw for me was the ridiculous looking, large three-hued (red, green and blue) eye they had. The actual shape of the aliens body, their short stocky torsos with long thin arms and three thin suction cup fingers, was all perfect, quite scary for the time. The sequence where Dr. Forrester (Gene Barry) and Sylvia van Buren (Ann Robinson) are holed up in an abandoned house, only to be met by one of the little aliens during the night, was executed excellently. I'm very sure that had viewers screaming back in the day. But alas that big colourful bug eye looked like a kids toy from the 80's. It was neat to give the aliens this unique vision, but the three coloured lens sections looked a bit daft to me.

Of course this being 50's America you know it wouldn't take long before the Yanks would break out their Atomic weaponry. Although lets be fair here, the humans get their asses handed to them on a plate. But there is a really effective build in tension as the Americans blast the aliens with everything they have, including nukes. But still the Martian machines keep coming, protected by their amusing bell jar shaped force fields. Eventually the military leaders realise they cannot stop the invaders, the fate of the human race lies in Gods hands (not literally). Its actually quite a haunting solemn moment.

This again leads to another element of the film I don't really like. After getting separated the main duo (Forrester and Buren) meet up again in a church (now in LA). The Martian machines loom down on the church as they tear through the streets, nothing can stand in their way, not even the house of God. But low and behold just before they are about to destroy the church, the alien crafts falter and come crashing down. Of course I'm sure everyone knows why now, but the fact that its implied there may have been divine intervention from up above that saved the Earth (and that church) is somewhat off-putting. The idea that bacteria infected and killed the Martians was always a brilliant move, genius. Its also perfectly normal to accept that if something like this did happen in reality, there would of course be a lot of religious rhetoric flying around no doubt. But to end this exceptional sci-fi on the notion that mankind was kinda saved by God just sours the fun.

Whilst I recognise the brilliance of this film in everything it achieves, I can't quite bring myself to say its a perfect movie. Yes it is one of the greatest science fiction movies ever made and it does still hold up today, but the few issues I have with this adaptation I cannot ignore. I think the main peeve for me will always be the look of the Martian machines, I just can't stand the fact they don't have tripod legs. Any imagery you see of towering alien tripods is just so instantly recognisable and evocative, it pains me that they are absent in this film. Nevertheless there is a good balance between the action and exposition scenes. Its not bogged down and boring, its actually a really tense and eerie affair, and you do genuinely care about the main cast (all of which do sterling work I might add). End of the day despite its small flaws, this is an absolute must see for all ages.

8.5/10

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Ice Pirates (1984)

























Oh George Lucas, what did you bring upon us with your earth-shattering movie of 1977. The answer to that is of course an absolute multitude of knock-off's, clones, wannabes and homages. This long forgotten oddity is what you might call a very light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek Star Wars knock-off.

The plot takes place in the distant future, presumably in a galaxy far far away, where water has become an extremely scarce and valuable resource (not too original eh). In fact H20 is so valuable that its actually used as a form of currency in ice cube form. Naturally only one planet is not affected by this, Mithra, home of the evil Templars. And of course they want to keep it this way ensuring their dominance over the galaxy. But as expected there are space pirates that battle the Templars for their control of the water. One such band of pirates (led by Jason, Robert Urich) stumble across a Princess whilst trying to pinch the watery cargo from one Templar ship. In turn they also discover that this Princesses father is thought to have discovered a planet with water, thing is he has also disappeared. So the Princess hires the pirates to find her father and hopefully the watery planet. On their tail are the Templars who do not want this secret being discovered.

OK so the first thing I have to point out is, this is quite literally a film about pirates in space. The movies title isn't just there to look and sound cool. The heroes literally steal ice, and they are all literally pirates complete with cutlasses, wide belts with big fat belt buckles, cavalier type boots, and poet shirts with lacing down the front. This whole pirate look is blended in with the more typically cliched futuristic sci-fi look. On one hand a shabby, used and weather beaten universe. On the other hand shiny uniforms and ships (basically Mad Max and Star Wars). Interestingly they also throw in some medieval fashions in there too. Yep the Templar foot soldiers (on-board ships) appear to wear medieval knight attire such as full body chain mail etc...



Now despite how the movie may come across with its obvious similarities to other space set fantasies in its poster and trailer, this movie isn't really for kids. OK sure there are lots of childish elements like the various silly robots, the slapstick etc...But this movie does have some moments of violence, gore, sex and umm...castration. Let me be clear, this isn't an R/18 rated type movie, but it has fun bits for the adults. There is a very wet and somewhat in depth softcore sex scene.There are a few scenes of people losing limbs complete with blood. One of the pirates (Zeno, Ron Perlman) loses his hand early on. In one of the more shocking sequences the sexy female pirate (Maida, Anjelica Houston) gets into a sword fight with some bounty hunter fellow and cuts his head off! Its actually quite unexpected and there are no cuts, you see it come right off. And yes in one sequence it is shown that the Templars turn prisoners into slaves by cutting of their balls with a set of robotic steel jaws.

I didn't really get the whole eunuch slave thing. They go through the process of having their balls cut off (and a lobotomy as well apparently), and come out afterwards with white hair and eyebrows? I guess the shock of having your balls bitten off by a steel trap could be the reason why your hair turns white; but when they are all lined up to be inspected (in white lycra catsuits) its quite clear that these eunuchs still have a lunchbox. One potential buyer even comments on a slaves lunchbox, but surely they shouldn't have lunchboxes?

Anyway what space fantasy is complete without a generic desert planet or desert scene. Well don't fret because of course this movie has one of those. Its actually one of the more interesting looking locations, just a shame we don't spend much time there. For some reason desert terrain always looks good on camera, it always looks authentic and suits fantasy films perfectly. I always liked this part when I was a kid, I think it was that Mad Max-esque battering ram with huge wheels. This little action sequence is probably the best in the movie despite being very brief. Some nice explosions, a few stunts, a bad guy getting run over and crushed under one of the huge wheels, cool stuff.



Anyway what space fantasy is complete without generic scantily clad, female amazonian warriors. Well don't fret because of course this movie has some of them too. They are all highly sexy, they are all very scantily clad, they are all seemingly submissive to their male leader (phew!), and they all seemingly hate outsiders...men and women (indeed). Yes you guessed it, it isn't long before our hero gets restrained in a very hot and steamy situation after the amazonians wrestle him to ground. Oh no! please don't straddle me and wrap your legs around my face, scantily clad sexy ladies! This movie seems to have an obsession with body parts too because the male character we meet in this location (Wendon, Bruce Vilanch) appears to be just a head. Presumably another robot but I'm not actually sure, but its another opportunity for a head to roll around.

Anyway what space fantasy is complete without a sequence set in a smokey, scummy space bar complete with aliens, space mercs, bounty hunters, space whores, ruffians...you get the idea.

The movie is a bit jumbled overall in hindsight, there are many many ideas being thrown around from many sources. Its like the director was overwhelmed and couldn't decide which ideas to rip-off, so he did them all. Hell there's even an 'Alien' rip-off (homage?) subplot with this little worm thing that hatches out of an egg and slithers amok on the ship. At one point this thing bursts out of the crews turkey dinner. Turns out its space herpes, which I'm guessing was suppose to be a crude joke at the time, but now falls totally flat. This subplot simply goes nowhere despite it running for most of the movie. Its just there as a joke.



The effects are also a very mixed bag. There are one or two matte painting shots with live action foregrounds that look really good (and familiar). Some of the sets and props are well designed and built; some look reasonably authentic as if they could actually work. The spaceship/space effects are pretty poor though, considering this came along way after 'Star Wars' its a bit shameful really. Then you have the various robots which include actual real robots of the era that do fit in quite well, but were limited in movement. The bulk of the robots are men in suits and very hokey. Rudimentary robotic movements, you can see the suits bending and creasing, plus the God awful slapstick and fights they get into are extremely stupid and infantile. I complain but I don't really think the effects were ever meant to be taken seriously. Sure they tried but its clear to see this feature was more of a cheeky comedy, hence the effects were never supposed to be groundbreaking (think 'Spaceballs').

When I was a kid I loved this movie because I obviously enjoyed it, and it felt like I was watching a movie for adults. It felt like I was being a bit naughty, I felt like I was more grown up...even though my folks were fine with me watching it. Looking back this movie has faded somewhat and lost its excitement factor for me. Robert Urich is certainly an underrated hero with his looks and might have been a better Lone Starr than Bill Pullman, who knows. The rest of the cast is definitely a curiosity and quite star studded these days but none of them really added much to the proceedings. It just doesn't really feel like a movie, more like a made for TV movie, the style of the end credits kinda reinforce that vibe. A product of its time for sure.

5.5/10

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Little Giants (1994)

























Ah the old cliched sports movie, a veritable treasure trove of...cliches. I mean what can I possibly say here that everyone doesn't already know about? It doesn't matter that this is a kids movie, in fact that makes it even worse for the cringeworthy cliches.

So the little all American town of Urbania (sounds like a small eastern European country) has a pee-wee football team called the Cowboys. Said team is coached by the local hero Kevin O'Shea (Ed O'Niell). After try outs for the team various useless kids are cut including local girl Becky who is daughter of Kevin's brother Danny (Rick Moranis). Upset by being cut Becky convinces her dad to create another team for all the kids who didn't make the grade for the Cowboys. Unfortunately this goes against the rules of one town, one team which is pointed out with much glee from Kevin. So Danny and his ragtag team of inept kids challenge Kevin and his well oiled machine of kids, to a playoff. Which team will represent the town Valkenvania...Castlevania...Transylvania...Urbania!!

Yeah so you should know what to expect here, we've seen this type of thing a million times in various movies for kids. The bumbling cack-handed kids of the Little Giants team are a stereotypical bunch. You've got the fat kid who's funny because he's fat, clearly very unfit and unhealthy...funny huh! The scrawny weedy kid who's half the size of everyone else, wears glasses, has a basin haircut and is a mummy's boy. The token black kid...who also can't catch. The token Asian kid...who's also mega fat and wears glasses. One kid who cries all the time, one kid who gets injured all the time, and of course the one good looking blonde kid who's kinda good.

On the other hand the fitter and better trained kids of the Cowboys team are also a stereotypical bunch. Stereotypical in the sense that they all look pretty uniform in appearance from physique to haircuts. One team is an uncouth messy mishmash of nerds; the other a highly organised, well trained team of young jocks. Each teams coach also represents those stereotypes in the sense that Danny (Moranis) is more of a laid back, spectacle wearing academic type who wants the kids to just have fun. Where as Kevin (O'Niell) is more of a no nonsense coach with a slick haircut, fancy sports car and likes (has) to win big. Danny coaches his unruly Giants with creative methods that involve no funds. Kevin has his own assistant, the team have expensive proper kits and equipment, and they use pro training methods within proper facilities.

The movie certainly does seem to push the old negative stereotype that anyone who wears spectacles must be some sort of weedy nerd who is more academic than sporty. Vice versa it also pushes the daft stereotype that anyone who is sporty must be large, muscular and have a buzz cut. The thing is the movie never really addresses those stereotypes. I mean yeah sure the Giants win in the end (unsurprising spoiler alert!) and the Cowboys do recognise and applaud their opponents, but the stereotypes are still there, the movie doesn't really attempt to rectify them.

Being a sports movie about American (pee-wee) football mixed with elements from 'Home Alone' does offer up some nice ideas, but its still a by the numbers movie really. Lots of silly training montages from both teams, lots of silliness from the kids, heartfelt moments from the adults yadda yadda yadda. There is a painfully slow car chase sequence in the movie which was so obviously staged I dunno why they kept it in. I do like Ed O'Niell but yet again he's basically giving us Al Bundy with his performance, he seems completely unable to break away from that persona. Where as Rick Moranis just does what he's always done really, play a spectacle wearing geek with a heart. As for the kid actors, well they do OK. They all do a good job in playing disgusting or wimpy nerds that's for sure, they all looked their parts.

Obviously this movie is the typical underdog tale, unashamedly so, and that's not a bad thing because it is supposed to be for young kids. And while the movie is a feel good flick which kids I'm sure will enjoy, I can't help but feel the overall message is somewhat mixed (if you wear glasses you're a nerd!). Its definitely a well made movie, very colourful, cheerful and chock full of cheekiness, just don't expect anything original. But I think we all know and expect this.

7/10

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Kevin & Perry Go Large (UK, 2000)

OK so I guess I should explain the background for this movie, for the non British folk. This movie is based on a silly comedy character created by British comedian Harry Enfield. Enfield had a comedy show on BBC2 way back during the 90's which featured a variety of his wacky outrageous characters. Enfield himself being a staple part of the alternative British comedy scene during the 80's and 90's.

In the show the Kevin character originally started out as a feisty young boy under the age of 13. He was kinda spoilt, annoying, hyperactive and always wanted the latest toys, but essentially a fun-loving kid . Then in one episode its Kevin Birthday, he finally reaches his teens and morphs into a thoroughly obnoxious and rude teenage who screams at his parents and sulks a lot. Its at this point we meet the character of Perry (Kathy Burke), Kevin's best friend. Perry is a short chubby fellow with greasy hair, a pale complexion and what seems like a limited intelligence. During the series we follow Kevin and Perry and their various teenage escapades in small episodic bites of comedy gold.

Much like any other TV character brought to the big screen the plot naturally has to be bigger, more flash in order to survive. With that the basic concept of Kevin the teen and his poor parents had to be expanded tenfold. So in a brilliantly ingenious bit of writing, Kevin, his parents and Perry (but not Perry's parents) all go off to Ibiza, Spain for a holiday after Kevin and Perry accidentally stop a bank robber and get a monetary reward. But the boys have an alternative plan in Ibiza, they plan on becoming famous DJ's in order to get loads of money and have lots of sex with hot birds. Yes it really is that simplistic, its almost like something from The Beano, but for adults.

So apart from the fact this movie was based on a popular Harry Enfield character, something else was needed to lure in the crowds. And that something was hard hitting house & dance club music. Again for anyone not in the know, Ibiza was the mecca of clubbing back in the day (probably still is, unsure). A small island off the east coast of Spain that is somehow almost entirely devoted to clubbing.

I think its pretty obvious what you can expect from this movie given everything I have told you thus far. Plenty of in-house footage from various famous clubs in the heart of Ibiza. Loads of scantily clad females dancing in cages and on the dance floor. Loads of beefy blokes dancing, and plenty of boozing and sexual innuendo from the main two lead characters. That's pretty much it really, Kev and Perry trying their best to get off with hot women who are out of their league. Whilst at the same time they both try to avoid Kev's crushingly boring and embarrassing middle aged parents.

Easily some of the best scenes involve Rhys Ifans outrageously c*ntish Mancunian character Eyeball Paul (he's called 'eyeball' because he takes in alcohol through his eye) . Ifans is absolutely spot on with this performance, he captures that Mancunian vibe with his accent, clothes and that hair perfectly, its almost annoying. The way he shamelessly abuses Kev and Perry whilst being a total misogynistic prick is a joy to behold. Ifans is clearly having a ball with this devilish character as he chews up the scenery beautifully. Shout out to James Fleet and Louisa Rix who play Kevin's poor parents (Rix being Kevin's mum in the TV series). These two capture the pain and suffering of a middle aged parental couple nicely. Those moments we can all relate to when your sad old parents would embarrass you; and now being middle aged myself, those moments when you cringe at the way teenagers show-off and behave around the opposite sex.

Looking back its actually possible this movie could of inspired the now classic vulgar British teenager comedy show 'The Inbetweeners'. Its very clear how similar the two are by watching this now, Kev and Perry could easily be a part of the Inbetweeners gang. There are quite a few familiar elements such as almost every character being a cockney, strangely (apart from Eyeball Paul). The spot squeezing sequence with the girls is both utterly revolting and a typical Inbetweeners-esque type scene. The language used infuses both modern and classic British profanity such as 'shag'. And for some reason Kevin has a Union Jack bedcover, who has that??

Yes the comedy is somewhat deliberately sexist and chauvinistic, dated, highly childish and in places quite disgusting. Yes much of what you see is highly predictable, stereotypical and cliched. And yes we've seen it all before many many times. But at the end of the day this movie is essentially a time capsule from the late 90's. The clubbing, the music, the clothes, the hairstyles, the comedy and general attitude towards British middle class life etc...Its actually more of a trip down memory lane combined with morbid curiosity rather than a riot of comedy. That's not a bad thing though as I did find myself kinda enjoying the trip.

6/10

Monday, 10 July 2017

Rugrats Go Wild (2003)

























The third movie in the trilogy and we get a big crossover of franchises. From the minds of Arlene Klasky and Gábor Csupó (the same people who brought you Rugrats) came The Wild Thornberrys, yet another popular 90's Nickelodeon cartoon. This wacky kids adventure series focused on a kooky, environmentally friendly family that traveled around the world making wildlife documentaries. An admirable notion to be sure but I always felt the whole thing was a little too on the nose in all honesty. Trying to tick all the politically correct boxes so to speak.

The family consisted of the young Eliza who could talk to animals. Elder sister Debbie who is more of a regular teen in the sense that she likes more teenage girlie things like fashion, music etc...Marianne the mother, camera woman and editor of the family documentaries. Nigel the father, a zoologist, naturalist and the David Attenborough-esque host of the documentaries. Donnie, a feral boy raised by orangutans in a typical Tarzan manner, who is eventually discovered by the Thornberrys. And lastly Darwin the chimpanzee, the pet of the family with whom Eliza communicates with.

Now I never really watched the Thornberrys, I saw bits of it here and there but it just didn't click with me. Its hard to pinpoint why as I'm not overly sure why other cartoons of the era did click with me. Whilst the whole cartoon did look very lush and exciting with its wild exotic locations, I think it was hard to relate with. None of the characters ever really grabbed me. I never really related to either of the young female characters as they were obviously aimed more at a female audience (which is fine). Donnie the feral boy was just stupid and annoying, Darwin was off putting simply because he was a chimpanzee and the mother character, again, wasn't really relatable. The only character that I did kinda like was Nigel mainly because he was goofy and amusing (being voiced by Tim Curry also helped greatly).



But another reason the characters didn't grab me was simply down to their horrible look/artistic design. Whilst much of the cartoon is nice to watch most characters were just bland or bizarre looking. The female characters were just generic looking frankly, apart from Eliza who was a bit different with red hair and braces. Darwin was an ugly chimpanzee, nuff said, and Donnie was just a slightly different version of Chuckie from Rugrats. Whilst Nigel was the best character for me he was also the oddest looking character. This is fine but for some reason he was designed really oddly with a body that was completely out of proportions.

Anyway if you never saw the Thornberrys then this would instantly present a problem going into this movie. You didn't necessarily need to know the backstory to the Thornberrys to enjoy this movie, but it did help. This is mainly down to simple things like, why is this girl talking to animals? Why is this Donnie kid acting like an animal? How come the chimp can talk...and only to one person? etc...

As for the movie and plot well its reasonable but not stunning. They don't hang around trying to explain the backstory to everything as I already said, they do expect the bulk of people that watch this will be fans and know the score. So on one hand that's bold, brave and kinda good. The plot is a bit too straight forward really though. The Thornberrys are working on a tropical island, the whole Rugrats clan go on a cruise vacation but end up in a rickety old boat instead. Naturally they hit a storm and get marooned on this tropical island where, once again, the babies get lost and end up meeting some of the Thornberrys. Yet again the parents have to find and save the babies with the help of the remaining Thornberrys.



In all honesty there are some quite harrowing moments for kids in this movie. When the Pickles, Finster's, Carmichael's and Deville's get hit by a tropical storm at sea things do get a tad dark at one point. Obviously nothing bad happens but blimey it gets a bit edgy. Then again later on when the babies are all stuck within the Thornberrys minisub at the bottom of the ocean and running out of oxygen, things get really edgy. At this point its made quite clear that they're all gonna die! Nigel starts reading stories to the babies to take their minds off the fact the oxygen is about to run out and they will all snuff it!

Most of the characters do the type of things they normally do, as you would expect. Chuckie is the comic relief and has plenty of duo time with Donnie. Tommy is brave, Phil and Lil bicker and argue, Angelica is greedy and bullies whilst Susie is a goody goody. All the parents do their usual parenting stuff, Stu being the best of the bunch as usual. The Thornberrys don't really do all that much seeing as it is a Rugrats flick but Debbie's valley girl persona is holey annoying and Nigel gets wasted with a case of amnesia which induces a child-like state...which is also kinda annoying. One big deal with this movie was the fact they got Bruce Willis to voice Spike the dog (yes they bring Spike everywhere). I mean sure Willis was and still is a huge star but I don't see why they needed him just to voice the dog. Didn't make much difference to anything, obviously just for the buzz.

Third times a charm? well not really unfortunately. Just like the previous two movies this isn't a bad film, its just underwhelming, too formulaic. Don't get me wrong it is a bit more off the beaten track which is good, the plot and what we see is more detached from basic reality which falls in line with the TV series (unlike the last two which were very grounded). We still aren't getting any story based around the babies imagination but at least this plot feels more fanciful, not so straight laced. There are still annoying songs in here but luckily they are brief, shame about the awful cover of Police classic 'Message in a Bottle'. Everything looks lovely and highly colourful but as usual there is much CGI. In the end it all feels a little bit standard with little effort put in to distinguish itself from the previous two films in terms of basic structure. The crossover was the only neat twist but I just wish they had used a better cartoon franchise like Hey Arnold!

6/10