Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Mole People (1956)




















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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7/10

Sunday, 29 October 2017

A Night at the Roxbury (1998)

























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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.5/10

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Monkeybone (2001)

























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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/10

Monday, 23 October 2017

Sgt. Bilko (1996)

























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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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



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

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

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

5.5/10

Friday, 20 October 2017

MacGruber (2010)





















MacGruber!! Making life saving inventions outta household materials!

MacGruber MacGyver was originally a reoccurring character on the American TV show Saturday Night Live. The character was created by SNL writer Jorma Taccone who also directed this movie. Actor Will Forte who portrayed the character of MacGruber (in both SNL and this movie) also wrote for the character alongside Taccone. If it isn't evident enough already, the character of MacGruber is of course based on, a parody of, the classic secret agent TV series MacGyver.

The idea behind MacGyver was an ex-special forces type bloke who worked for a fictional agency of the US government, and the fictional Phoenix Foundation. An expert in physics and physical sciences, he usually solves problems with his ingenuity and array of trusty everyday objects such as a penknife, duct tape, matches etc...So yes, essentially it was another version of the A-Team but for adults. The idea behind MacGruber is of course to spoof this entire concept tenfold.

The plot: Some baddies led by the dastardly Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer) take possession of a nuclear warhead with the intention of using it to blow up Washington D.C. Col Jim Faith (Powers Boothe) hunts down MacGruber in order to enlist his help in stopping this act of terrorism. At first MacGruber declines, but after a nightmare surrounding the death of his fiancée (killed by Von Cunth), he agrees. But MacGruber has one condition, that he can use his own hand picked team. Faith agrees and MacGruber assembles his boys...only to accidentally kill them; so he ends up going with Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) and Vicki Gloria St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig).



The idea behind MacGruber isn't anything specifically new, we've all seen spoofs of action/secret agent movies, a lot of it comes down to Will Forte. Now I don't know a lot about Forte. I have seen the original MacGruber skits on SNL, but I didn't know of Forte before hand and I don't really know of anything he's done after. All I know is this guy really knew how to play this character, had him down to a tee. His arrogance, egotism, narcissism and juvenile behaviour; Forte handles this characters fragility with aplomb, he makes it look easy and fresh despite the fact its definitely not a fresh angle (I think we've all seen Rambo spoofs before right? yup).

'Well then, I'll just have to put together my own dream team...of killer stoppers'

I think the best example of the state of MacGruber's mind is when a passer-by hurls a rather tame insult at his car (a 1996 Mazda MX-5 Miata). MacGruber responses with his own tirade of (much worse) insults and that seems to be that. Later on Dixon comes across MacGruber's personal notepad and flips through it only to discover every page is covered with insane doodles of anger. Top to bottom, smothered with rantings and scribbles of rage. Clearly MacGruber is unable to take being mocked (despite dishing it out himself). It builds up inside him until he unleashes it upon the offender whom he eventually stumbles across (with his car).

But watching MacGruber break down is a regular and hilarious occurrence in this movie. The man is essentially a selfish man-child and throws tantrums when things awry. When MacGruber is first introduced to Dixon he destroys him with insults. He sneers at Dixon despite Faith highly recommending him for his skills. Dixon wasn't good enough for MacGruber because he had his own team of commandos. That is until MacGruber accidentally blows his team up. After Faith shuts down the operation we then see the U-turn by MacGruber as he starts to literally beg on his knees, offering sexual favours to both Faith and Dixon for their help. Its both embarrassing and extremely funny watching MacGruber acting the tough guy, only for it to crumble and reveal his true inner self when it goes tits up. Again none of this is anything original, far from it, but its the way Forte does it.



Yes the humour throughout this movie is somewhat childish and daft. Its toilet humour, sophomoric by the bucket load, but at times the craziness is just laugh out loud funny. When MacGruber distracts some bad guys by stripping naked and sticking a piece of celery between his butt cheeks. When MacGruber dresses Vicki up as himself for the sting operation he somewhat cunningly devised and delivered (not), its ludicrous. Then in the next scene they dress Vicki as one of Cunth's henchmen and Dixon disguises himself as MacGruber to infiltrate a warehouse. All the while MacGruber watches and waits in safety, having expressed to both partners that everything should work just fine. Also the fact that MacGruber refuses to use guns (preferring to rely on household materials just like the SNL sketches and original TV series) for most of the movie...until he realises guns are actually cool to use.

In comparison to the SNL skits I'd say the movie isn't quite as good simply because the incredibly short skits just worked better that way. Every skit was basically the same utilisng the same set, the same bomb to defuse, but with different characters helping MacGruber. Some sketches were self-contained micro stories, whilst some had a continuing storyline. But overall they were literally a few minutes long and were totally off the wall. Bite-sized nuggets of throwaway comedy. Having to extend this into a full length movie was always gonna present problems.

Did they overcome these problems? Well sort of, whilst the movie is indeed enjoyable, its only really enjoyable in chunks. Naturally these chunks tend to be when Forte is front and centre doing his thing. The other characters are fine but not really that interesting. Its cool to see Kristen Wiig return from the skits but maybe they should of used some of the other characters too, like Darrel (Charles Barkley) or Kyle (Josh Brolin). Watching MacGruber struggling with political correctness and his clumsy racism towards Darrel (a Nordberg type character) is priceless; they really should have included more of that in the movie. I can see why the movie has become something of a cult, and I can also see why the movie bombed at the box office. For people not in the know this movie will have looked like regurgitated trash, which I fully understand. But that's a shame because this movie and its main protagonist are far wittier than most might expect.

7.5/10

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Three Amigos (1986)

























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

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

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



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

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

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

'...and then??'

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

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

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



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

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

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

9/10

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Longest Yard (2005)
















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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

4.5/10

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Longest Yard (1974)





















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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7/10

Sunday, 1 October 2017

White Lightning (1973)


























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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

4.5/10