Monday, 30 June 2014

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)



The Man Who Knew Too Much is the only film Hitchcock ever remade.  I wonder if that was a positive or negative thing.  Did he like the premise so much he wanted to update it, twenty years later?  Or was he dissatisfied with the original?

I saw the remake some years ago and wasn't terribly impressed by it.  The dilemma at the core of the film - a husband and wife learn that details of a political assassination that is going to take place and the plotters try to force them to remain silent about it by kidnapping their child - seemed rather contrived to me, for one thing.  Particularly since the villains allow the parents to get away with all manner of other efforts to thwart their scheme, because apparently that's okay, it's just talking to the authorities that is out.

The original suffers from the same problem, but it avoids some of the other missteps made by the remake: it doesn't overstay its welcome (it's 75 minutes instead of the later version's 120), it doesn't cast Doris Day as a dramatic lead (she was a capable comic actress, but she's not terribly good in this), and it casts a very young Peter Lorre as the main villain.  It's easier to overlook an unlikely plot in those circumstances.

This version also has the charm of being exceedingly British.  At one point the husband is being held at gunpoint by the villains and yet everyone remembers all their pleases and thank yous and other social niceties.  It's the most polite band of antagonists you'll ever see.

The other thing I liked was that the wife character gets a more active role in this than the remake.  She's still definitely secondary to the husband, but less so.  Interesting that things went backward on that front twenty years later.

This is worth checking out as an early example of Hitchcock's work, and it's in the public domain so it is pretty easy to find very cheaply.  Or you can just watch it on youtube.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Wild Things: Diamonds in the Rough (2005)



Like the second film, this third Wild Things more or less repeats the opening of the first.  I guess I'll give them credit for committing to their little motif.  The callbacks aren't quite as comprehensive this time, but the movie does at least introduce its best feature right out the outset: Dina Meyer, once more single-handedly attempting to turn trash into something watchable.

I'm not saying Meyer succeeds, mind you.  But she does try.

The other thing this film shares in common with the second (other than the by now predictable girl-girl-boy sex scene) is that it collapses under the weight of its own plot twists.  The scheme here is utterly, utterly nonsensical.  It's not only massively more complicated than it needs to be, but it relies on a degree of coincidence and contrivance that dwarfs the first film's machinations by a factor of about 15 times.

As usual, we have two young women with an apparently hostile relationship, but who are 'secretly' lovers.  I put secretly in quotes because there are at least two scenes where they make out in the high school showers: not exactly a recipe for keeping your relationship under the radar.

At stake this time is the rather paltry sum - by Wild Things standards - of $4 million.  That's half the prize in the first film, people!  Show some ambition!  Said money is locked up in a pair of diamonds that were left to one of the young women by her deceased mother, but which she cannot access because her stepfather is contesting the will.

Together with her partners in crime - which include a juvenile offender whose parole officer is played by Meyer - the heiress sets out to frame her step father for rape.  The plan is to convince him that he can buy off his accuser ... which as he lacks funds of his own, he can only do by signing away his rights to the diamonds and letting the heiress sell them.

Or at least, that's what the plan initially appears to be.  It's going to get much, much sillier before things are through.

Dina Meyer's presence raises this a notch above the second film, but can't disguise the fact that this is still nonsensical trash.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Wild Things 2 (2004)



This film begins with a sequence of events that clearly and studiously echo the original film's opening.  We are presumably supposed to find this clever, but I am not convinced.

In any case, the film introduces us to Brittany, the step-daughter of a wealthy businessman.  She's queen of the school, wealthy and beautiful and the star of the beach volleyball team.

Is Brittany's athletic career important to the plot, or just an excuse to show lots of fit young women jumping around in bikini tops?  These are the kind of questions Wild Things 2 poses.  In other words, questions with very obvious answers.

All is not well in Brittany's world, however, as her mother is dead: either a drunken suicide or a drunken accident after ploughing her car into a swamp.  The exact details aren't really known, since no body was ever recovered.  Alligators in those swamps, after all.

Rather less popular at school is Maya, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks (as Brittany herself was before her mother married her step-father).  Maya seems determined to tear Brittany down, presumably because she resents the fact that Brittany has a nice car and a beautiful home, while she still lives in a trailer.

When a plane crash takes out Brittany's father, Maya seemingly has her opportunity to get revenge.  Brittany is shut out of the will in favour of a blood heir, and Maya claims to be to be step-daddy's illegitimate child.  The two young women engage in hurling insults at each other in court, but a DNA test bears out Maya's claim.

But of course this is a Wild Things movie, so it should come as no surprise that Maya and Brittany are secretly a lot more friendly than they pretend, and there's a whole lot more going on than meets the eye.  There'll be plot twists a-plenty in the second half of the film.

Of course, there's a big risk in putting lots of plot twists into your film, and that's losing track of whether the actual events, when finally revealed, make sense.  The original Wild Things was hugely contrived and quite far-fetched, but the basic plan didn't defy logic.  The same is not true of this film.  The last ten minutes make absolute nonsense of everything that has gone before, though Isaiah Washington's performance in his segment of them is almost enough to distract you from that.

Almost.

This is a pale imitation of the original.  Even the "sexy" scenes feel like a wishy-washy, unfocused retread of the first.  You can safely skip it.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Wild Things (1998)



I saw Wild Things at the cinema for the very scientific reason that it was on.  I had a card at the time that let me go to the movie theatre for $5 a time, so I was going every Wednesday night.  This particular week, I'd either seen everything else or knew I wasn't interested, whereas all I knew about this film was that Neve Campbell from Scream was in it.

In any case, even if I'd known more about the film, I probably would have still have been surprised by two factors.  First, that it's a pretty good little noir film.  Because make no mistake: despite the sun-drenched Florida setting and the absence of city alley ways, this is absolutely a noir film, with all the twists and turns and the moral corruption that term implies.

The second factor, and the one for which the film is much more notorious, is the sexual content, which was quite a bit more intense than was common for mainstream film releases of the time; especially ones featuring the usually clean cut Matt Dillon.

It's perhaps a shame that Wild Things does contain that sexual contact, as I think people have tended to overlook the decent little noir thriller that's the setting for the naughty bits.  Certainly, I expect the sequels will not measure up in terms of narrative, though they will doubtless deliver more nudity and sexual shenanigans.  On the other hand, the original noir films often rode the edge of what was acceptable content for their time, so maybe the sex scenes in this were a way of updating the genre to the times.

... nah, I don't really buy that either.

Anyway, if you're in the mood for a thriller, and don't mind lashings of nudity and bad language, and a cast of characters where the ambulance chasing attorney is one of the more likeable people you'll meet, then this is a pretty good bet.  I doubt it's going to be celebrated seventy years later, in the way a classic noir film like The Big Sleep is, but very few movies are The Big Sleep.

All up, this is a pretty good film with which to spend a couple of hours.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

High Plains Drifter (1973)



A town of repugnant human beings hire a reprehensible human being to protect them from a trio of repulsive human beings.  A cartload of people die in the process, and not a one of them doesn't leave the world a better place by no longer being in it.

The central thesis of this film appears to be that pretty much everyone in the world is a worthless piece of scum and that the only thing that elevates any of us is that we might be a bit more selective - or effective - in our brutality than the others around us.

In other words, this is 100 minutes of jerks being jerks to each other, often with fatal consequences.  I found it a thoroughly unpleasant experience.  Which may in fact have been the point, but I have real life history for that sort of thing.  I don't need it in my fiction as well.

Technically, the film is well-shot and well-acted.  But I didn't care a whit about any of the characters on the screen and would quite happily have seen an atomic bomb fall on them halfway through the movie. Not only would they have deserved it, but it would have saved me 45 minutes that I could have spent doing something more pleasant, such as repeatedly punching myself in the testicles.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Incredibles (2003)



We live in a great time for superhero movies.  Marvel Studios are yet to put a foot wrong with their adaptations, and signs are good for the next couple of releases as well.  Sony's Spider-Man films have had their ups and downs, as have Fox's X-Men titles, but on the whole: spandex rules the big screen.

So it says something about how good The Incredibles is that this decade-old animated feature remains one of the three best superhero films to be made (the first Iron Man and Avengers films are also on the list).

So honestly, you can stop reading the review right now: unless you're so prejudiced against animated films that you refuse to see it purely because it's a cartoon (which is frankly your own loss), you should grab this and watch it at your first opportunity.

In case you need some additional information, though, I'll give you a quick rundown: the film's premise is that after a promising start, superheroes were sued into oblivion by persons injured in their activities.  The government gave them new identities, and they settled into normal, ordinary lives.

Two such heroes are Mr Incredible and Elastigirl, who married and had kids together.  Mr Incredible is struggling to adjust to the life of being an ordinary person, though.  His need to use his abilities to help others is just too strong for him to overcome.  So when a secret government organisation contacts him to help them with a little matter, he leaps at the chance to get his hero groove back on.

But of course, the so-called government organisation might not be what it purports to be, and soon Mr Incredible, Elastigirl, and their kids will be in a fight for their lives.

This is a fun, action-packed film with great characters, expertly judged humour (both in the dialogue and the visuals) and a nice sprinkling of touching moments without ever being schmalzy.  It's a great script, really fine work.

See it.


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)



I like several of Danny Elfman's movie soundtracks, and I quite enjoyed what little I've heard of "Oingo Boingo", the band he headed in the 80s and 90s.  Which is why it comes as a surprise to me that the songs in this are the weakest part of the film.  They're bland, often very similar in their sound, and just all round underwhelming.

And bad songs are a significant problem when 50% of your movie is the characters singing.

Perhaps if the script was stronger the lack of interesting songs wouldn't stand out so much, but it's nothing to shout about, especially the pacing: the film takes a bit too long to get to its conflict, and the resolution then comes with unseemly haste.

This is a shame, because the basic premise isn't bad.  Jack Skellington, king of Halloween Town, is feeling some ennui about the same-ness of every year's holiday celebration.  But then, while on a walk, he stumbles into Christmas Town by accident. He sees this new and exciting place (and its holiday) as his opportunity to do something different, and resolves to take over Christmas.  He enlists the help of his creepy, kooky subjects, but of course neither he nor they really understand what the holiday is about, so things go more than a little awry.  Especially when wicked bogeyman Oogie Boogie gets involved.  (Oogie, by the by, gets the only song I thought had any real verve to it)

That outline sounds like a movie that should be fun.  More fun than it actually is, certainly.  But as noted above, the pacing isn't good, and that really hurts it.

So does the movie have any bright spots?  Sure.  It looks fantastic, with detailed stop motion animation being used to great effect, and lots of cool character and set design to be seen.  Visually, it's quite a treat.  It's a shame the aural and narrative elements of the film don't measure up.

Worth checking out if you're an animation buff, or a mad fan of the Halloween holiday, but otherwise, it's skippable.

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Guy From Harlem (1977)



Harlem-born but Florida-based PI Al Connors is hired by the CIA to be a bodyguard for the wife of a visiting African dignitary.  All happily takes the pay day when he hears the woman is attractive, but he's not the only one with an interest in her.

For most movies, that'd be plenty on which to base an entire narrative, at least after you explained why the CIA needs to turn to a private investigator for a sensitive job like this, and also why the CIA are doing it and not the secret service.

For this film, however, that's only half a movie.  Once Al's thwarted an attempt to kidnap the lady in question and seduced her with his "smooth" pick up lines, the whole thing gets dropped and an entirely new case begins.  It's almost like this started as two episodes of a TV show, though I can find no evidence of that (nor can I believe any TV station would have picked it up if it had been).

The new case is to pay the ransom for a gangster's daughter, who has been kidnapped by a rival crime lord.  Al's too smooth for that action, though.  He tails the villain's henchman to the girl, engages in hilariously inept judo shenanigans to take down the ruffians who are there, and rescues the girl.

She of course, sleeps with him too.

All this ticks off the rival crime lord, one "Big Daddy", who was also behind the foiled kidnapping of the dignitary's wife, and he challenges Al to come meet him.

Will Al win through in the end?  Well, since this Big Daddy isn't Shirley Crabtree, yeah, he probably will.

So is this movie any good?  Oh my word no.  It's badly acted, badly shot, badly lit, badly written ... about the only thing that's good is the jivetastic theme song.  The movie either knows that, or they had no cash for the rest of the soundtrack, because it's the only music I remember hearing in the whole thing.

This is ultra-cheap blaxploitation, with the hysterical outfits and slapdash film-making that often implies, though much less violence and nudity than usual.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, but unless you have a taste for the "passionate but rubbish" school of cinema, you can safely skip it.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder (2008)



When I originally saw this film, shortly after it came out, I rather enjoyed it.  On viewing the DVD tonight, I had to struggle to explain why.

Because trust me, this is not a good movie.  We've got obvious cheapness; especially the way that humans and CGI monsters so rarely interact in person.  And we've got bad acting by the bucket load.  As a leading lady, Jolene Blalock is not even a Denise Richards, let alone a Dina Meyer, while Cecile Breccia has clearly been cast for assets other than her thespian capabilities.

So what does the movie have to recommend it?  Well, it brings back Caspar van Dien and his big square jaw.  Man still can't act worth a damn, but that didn't hurt the first film any.  And we've got some deliriously gonzo script moments.  I mean sure, they're mostly utterly stupid, but some of them manage to pass through that to become sublimely stupid.  I mean, we have a balding middle-aged guy as a sex symbol pop star who also happens to be head of the entire human military.  I can get behind something as goofy as that.  We also have the movie troopers finally getting something like the ordnance that have in Heinlein's novel, and I am enough of a nerd to get a kick out of that.  And we have Amanda Donohoe, gleefully hamming it up in her role as a scheming backstabber in the military hierarchy.  Most of all though, I think it was probably the fact that the movie subverts a couple of the usual tropes of military-themed fiction, and I'm a sucker for such subversions when they hang together reasonably well.

The plot?  The war against the arachnids is ongoing.  John Rico, now a Colonel, commands a military outpost on a frontline planet.  His base is visited by Sky Marshal Anoke (the aformentioned pop star-cum-commander in chief) and everything goes to hell.  The base is overrun, and while the Sky Marshal gets away, his ship is damaged and he ends up marooned on a planet far behind enemy lines.  To make matters worse, powerful factions within the human military seem to have no interest in rescuing him.  Can Rico get his neck out of the hangman's noose and save the day?  (Spoiler: yes)

So yeah, it's a bad film, with a few elements that made me like it a lot more than it deserved, the first time I saw it.  Elements like this:



Saturday, 21 June 2014

Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation (2004)



Three signs your sequel isn't likely to be much good:

  1. It's direct to video/DVD.  (aside: does anyone remember the days when such films tried to bill themselves as "exclusive" to video?  Oh how I laughed).
  2. It comes out with either unseemly haste, or after a suspiciously long gap, either of which is usually a sign of a desperate attempt to milk some money.
  3. None of your original cast return.
Now admittedly, Starship Troopers did itself no favours on point three by killing off Dina "I'll try to make any old drek watchable" Meyer.  But if you can't tempt Caspar van Dien to turn up - who was in Beastmaster 3 and the upcoming Sharktopus vs Mermantula - then something is almost certainly wrong.

We open with an attempt to re-create the over the top informercials of the first film, but without the same panache and glossy graphics.  Also, some big chunks of re-used footage from the first film intercut into the significantly cheaper looking new stuff.

Then we cut to a battle on an alien planet somewhere, where a group of troopers are surrounded by bugs.  Said troopers deliver heavy-handed exposition, mingled with equally heavy-handed cliches, to establish the cardboard stereotypes they'll play in this film: we have the Hapless Rookie, the Tough As Nails Commander, the No-Nonsense Sergeant, the Overcompensating Junior Officer, the Big Black Guy With An Equally Big Gun, and so on.

Anyway, Tough As Nails Commander orders No-Nonsense Sergeant to executes a breakout while he leads a last ditch defence to buy the rest of the unit time to get away.  The breakout's goal: an abandoned outpost that they may be able to defend long enough to be evacuated.

The group reaches the outpost, where Overcompensating Junior Officer stridently demands for his orders to be followed.  In the course of this, they discover a man locked into the facilities incinerator.  This is Captain Dax, who murdered the base's CO.  He'll be your Weary Hero Who Has Lost His Faith for the movie.

Anyway, the group weathers the bugs first attack due to the aid of Weary Hero Who Has Lost His Faith, but as he and Overcompensating Junior Officer really begin to clash, Tough As Nails Commander turns up with three new troopers, who just happened to stumble into his firefight and helped him escape.

Nobody in the movie is at all suspicious about this, of course.

Starship Troopers 2 is a pretty standard 'the enemy within' kind of film.  Its worst stumbles are when it tries to hit the gonzo notes of the first film: it just lacks the style and verve to do it.  The more traditional action/thriller stuff mostly works OK.  I give it points for having a strong female character who's actually strong (I don't think we're supposed to remember that the actress played a totally different character in the first film, though).

Anyway: this is not terrible, but it's also not especially memorable or exciting, and the ending is ... well, it's going for the same unsubtle satire Verhoeven does so well, but it falls short.

See it only if you're a hopeless tragic for this sort of schlock, like me.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Starship Troopers (1997)



When this movie debuted, there were cries of outrage from fans of the Robert Heinlein novel on which it is based (or not based, as the detractors claimed).  Certainly, there are lots of differences between the two, but that's not automatically a bad thing.  I mean, Heinlein's novel is at least free of the squicky incest elements that filled his Lazarus Long books, but it has some pretty uncomfortable political elements.  Those elements are quite nicely satirised in the film, without any of the characters ever acknowledging that satire.

So yeah, sorry to the people who hated it - some of whom are friends of mine - but this film is great fun, schlocky and over the top and with a macabre sense of humour running through it, just like Paul Verhoeven's other SF hit, Robocop.

In the future, mankind is split into two castes: civilians and citizens.  Only the latter can vote or become successful politicians, and they find it easy to get things like a license to have children.  How does one become a citizen?  By signing up for a tour of military service "for two years or as long as the Federation deems it necessary".  So basically the key to being a citizen is being willing to kill.  It's not phrased like that, of course, "only those willing to defend society should get a say in how that society runs" is the acceptable face of the credo, but it amounts to "kill stuff to get perks".

Anyway, we follow callow youth John Rico as he signs up to impress his girlfriend, nearly washes out, then opts to stay in the army when war breaks out with a race of insectoid aliens.

The war starts badly for humanity, as they underestimate the enemy threat (this isn't much of a spoiler, since it's in the opening scenes),  but they gradually come to grips with their enemy over the course of the film.  There's lots of grunting, banging of heads, and other macho nonsense in the course of this.  There's also some terrible, terrible tactical and strategic decisions by the humans, but anyone who doesn't believe these decisions to be plausible should google 'Islandhwana' or 'Den Bien Phu' for real life examples of just how dumb we humans can be.

I've heard this film, with its gonzo action, ridiculously pretty cast, and themes of a technological culture underestimating an apparently less advanced one, described as "Vietnam 90210".  It's a pithy and not entirely inaccurate way of summing up the tone of the film (though it ends rather better for the technological powerhouse).

Check it out if you want to see a gonzo, over the top schlockfest of hammy acting, casual nudity, and butt-ugly bug monsters.  Fun stuff.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Once Upon A Time in the West (1968)



When he was casting A Fistful of Dollars, Sergio Leone's first choice for the lead role was Charles Bronson.  Bronson though the script was bad, and turned down the part: a decision for which Clint Eastwood is presumably very grateful.

After all three 'Dollars' films were hits, however, Leone finally got his wish, as Bronson signed on (along with Henry Fonda) for this film.

One Upon A Time in the West has all the hallmarks of a Leone film: it's wonderfully shot, with great use of light and shadow, and the use of music - or the lack thereof - is also wonderfully judged.  Few film-makers know how to use silence the way Leone did.

Despite that, however, I came away dissatisfied with this film.  A big part of that is probably generational: the way the supposed 'white hats' of the film act toward the female lead set my teeth on edge, but probably didn't even register with audiences at the time.  This is the first of Leone's films that's included a major female role, and I'm rather glad he neglected them before now, based on this one.

Another element may be over-exposure to Leone's film-making "tics".  I've watched four of his films in the past month, and there are certain patterns that tend to get repeated.  The final showdown between Bronson and Fonda would have a lot more impact, for instance, if I hadn't seen very similar scenes at the end of both A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

In fact, echoes of the third "Dollars" film are strong in this: most strikingly, it also features three gunslingers: one tarnished but arguably the hero, one out and out evil, and one rascal.  The 'turn in a wanted man only to bust him out again straight away' thing makes another appearance, too.

The basic plot is sound enough.  A railway baron and his hired gun try to seize some land they need, while the other two gunslingers try to stop them.  It takes too long to get there, though.  The film didn't need to be two and a half hours long.

If this was the first Leone film I'd seen, I'd probably be more enthusiastic about it (though the chauvinism stuff would irk me even then), but it's not, and I'd rate it overall as the least entertaining of the four.  Unless you're a particular fan of his work, you can skip it.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Fallen (1998)



This is another one of those films I first saw many years ago (nearly 15, in this case), later bought on DVD, and then never actually watched.


The first thing I noticed as I fired it up was how great the cast is: Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, James Gandolfini and Embeth Davidtz.  Not a bad ensemble at all.

Washington is John Hobbes, the detective who caught serial killer Edgar Reece.  Reece is about to be executed when he shakes Hobbes's hand, mutters in some strange language, and then sings "Time is on My Side" as poison gas floods the chamber.

And that's the end of that, right?  Well, no.  Because while he was at large, Reece had a habit of calling Hobbes in the middle of the night as a way of taunting him.  And guess which Detective's phone starts a-ringing in the early hours of the morning?

This is followed by killings that mimic Reece's, as well as strange clues that point to a police officer who committed suicide thirty years earlier.  Hobbes follows the clues with dogged determination, eventually meeting the dead officer's daughter.  After considerable pressure, she finally reveals what he's facing: Azazel, a fallen angel with a love of both music and murder, and the ability to possess human hosts at whim.

So at least Hobbes knows what he's up against ... but how do you stop a creature that's thousands of years old and doesn't have a body to kill?

This is an entertaining thriller with some nicely creepy scenes, especially in the middle act.  The final confrontation is also well-executed, and nicely set-up by earlier events in the script.  It's not going to be to all tastes, but it's a considerably better effort than some of the other supernaturally-themed thrillers that were briefly in vogue as the end of the millenia loomed (End of Days and Stigmata, I am looking at you).

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Pink Floyd The Wall (1982)







In my late teens, I was a semi-fan of Pink Floyd.  I suspect it had something to do with the 'high concept' nature of several of their albums, which appealed to my sense of intellectual superiority.  One such album was 'The Wall', which doubled-down on the Floyd's usual cynicism and self-importance by being about the isolation and social maladjustment of a misunderstood, tormented genius.

If ever an album was calculated to appeal to a bright but socially awkward teenager ...

Anyway, I initially saw and liked the movie shortly after becoming familiar with the music.  Eight years ago, having not seen the move in about a decade, I picked it up on DVD.  Mostly out of a combination of nostalgia and it being cheap.  And then I didn't watch it.  You shouldn't be surprised.  My failure to watch DVDs I own is, after all, why this project exists.

So this is the first time I've seen the film in about eighteen years, and perhaps the preamble has given away that I wasn't much impressed.  Roger Waters, who was one of the main song-writers in the band and who also wrote the screenplay, lost his father when he was a youngster, and boy, has he not got over that.  The film relentlessly underscored how terrible that was for him.  And I'm sure it was, but it becomes a bit repetitive when it's the main theme of a ninety minute film.

Anyway, Roger's expy in the film grows up to be rockstar 'Pink', played by Bob Geldof (who does a rather painful rendition of a couple of the songs from the record).  He resents his mother, hated school, and has a dysfunctional marriage.  The last is probably because he's built the titular "wall" around his emotions and self-identity, closing out anything that might possibility hurt him.

So basically, the film's about him wallowing in his hatred of everyone in his life (including himself), and remembering or imagining all kinds of misery, until at the end he finally snaps - both in the real worls and inside his own mind - and tears down the wall he has created.  The end.  So, happy ending I guess.

Gerald Scarfe's animated 'dream' sequences in the film have some pretty cool sequences  (though apparently teenage me was obvlious to a lot of the imagery of sexual organs in them), but the live action sequences of the film (which is 2/3 of it) are really very self-indulgent and dull.  I can't recommend it unless you're a fan of the band.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)







I was pretty excited when I first saw the trailers for this film.  A pulp adventure movie!  That cool slightly sepia tone look!  Exciting!

My excitement abated when I actually saw the film, though.  I didn't hate it, but I had significant issues with the pacing and characterisation (or lack thereof).  I wouldn't even own the film on DVD if I hadn't received it as a gift.

So, on the re-watch, is it any better?

Well, not really, to be honest.  The film's main selling point - the visuals - haven't aged all that well, and the fact that it's pretty much 100% green screen is quite obvious at times, with environments feeling not quite 'real' on a unfortunately frequent basis.

Slightly dated visuals are definitely not enough to put me off a film, though.  Where I feel this movie is more problematic is in the script.  There are three main weaknesses.  They get progressively more spoiler-y (especially the last), so consider yourself warned.

The first and most glaring issue is the characterisation of the two leads.  Despite the roles going to talented actors, they really struggle to give their roles any depth.  And that's not surprising when the script never bothers to develop them beyond "Intrepid Girl Reporter" and "Jerk with a Plane".  All we know about the two of them is that she's an ersatz Lois Lane and he's an unfaithful cad who runs a mercenary army.  It's hard to care overmuch about either of them, but particularly the Sky Captain himself.  Another thing that I found irritating was the film's tendency to make the Girl Reporter knock things over, press the wrong button, or otherwise foul things up in order to have the story progress.  It's rather tiresome.  The film's rather too fond of deus ex machina's too: oh look our heroes (I use the term loosely) are in trouble!  I wonder what random passer-by will save them this time!

The second issue is that the script tries to wedge far too many different kinds of pulp adventure into the 90-odd minutes of run time.  We get submersible action, heaps of aviation-based stuff (as you'd expect from the title), rocket ships, lost world style locations, giant robots, airships, Shangri La, etcetera and so on and for goodness sake a little restraint sometimes goes a long way, you know?  You need to give this stuff some room to breathe, not jam it all in like plot sardines.

The third issue is the villain ... or lack thereof.  Revealing that your evil mastermind has been dead for twenty years and his awful plan is being completed by his robotic minions may have seemed like a good idea when the writers came up with it, but I'm afraid it isn't.  It kind of robs the movie of a climax beyond the tired old 'disarm the bomb' cliche.  We even have an audible countdown as it happens.

All in all, a disappointment.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Night Train to Terror (1985)






Rather like Frankenstein's Monster, this film is stitched together from the corpses of three other movies.  They've each been pared down to a 20-30 minute short film, then loosely joined together with a framing mechanism based around God and the Devil judging the souls of the characters appearing in each of them.  For some reason, these framing sequences feature an awful lot of extremely eighties music video moments.  Which makes them by far the most entertaining part of the film, outside of the cheesey stop-motion effects that turn up in two of the three segments.

Segment one trots out the old 'illegal organ trading' concept, with a group of evil Doctors kidnapping people, torturing them, and then selling their remains to medical schools.  I'm not sure that would be the most lucrative use of fresh kidneys and hearts.  Most of the victims are attractive young women.  I am sure that this is merely coincidence, as is the frequency with which these young women appear topless.

Segment two deals with a strange club where the members get together to risk their lives in potentially dangerous games of chance.  The justification for why the point of view characters would get involved in such stupidity is extremely flimsy, but the segment again throws around enough nudity that the target audience of teenage boys likely didn't care.

Segment three is a cheap Omen rip-off with the largest preponderance of those delightfully cheesey stop- motion effects I mentioned.  If only the rest of the segment hadn't been so dull I might have even enjoyed it.

This is ultra-cheap film-making, with heaps of recycled footage, shonky acting, bad effects and nonsensical cuts between shots.  I found it endearingly awful, but I suspect most people would only consider the latter of those two words to apply.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

X-Men (2000)







I was in a film class when this movie came to cinemas, and I one of my assignments ended up being to do a movie review of it, while specifically calling out at least three elements from a list: costume, sound direction, cinematography and so on.  The point wasn't to say whether we liked the movie, but to show we understood how cinematic conventions had been used in it.

I got a good mark for the assignment.  I don't remember all the things I talked about in it, but I definitely covered costuming: specifically the fact that the good guys wore a uniform, signalling that they represented co-operation, whereas the bad guys all wore different things (and were mostly fairly scruffy), representing disorder.

In any case: I also quite liked the movie at the time, and I didn't mind it on a re-watch, either.  It's no Avengers, don't get me wrong, but that's not really a fair comparison.  The roughly 15 years that have passed since this movie was made has raised the bar for superhero movies.

Let's put it this way: the last big budget superhero movie before this one was Batman & Robin.  You can see why X-Men seemed like such a big deal at the time.

The movie is set in 'the not too distant future', and posits a world where mutants - humans born with strange powers - are beginning to appear in small but significant numbers.  Many people are rather agitated about this, considering the new breed to be a threat to 'normal folk' and calling for enforced registration of all people with such powers.

The mutants respond to this in three different ways: the first is hiding, the second is fighting back, and the third is attempting to use their abilities to defend people and thus hopefully show that they are not a threat.

The movie drops two members of the first group - Hugh Jackman in his star-making role as Wolverine, and Anna Paquin as Rogue - into the battle between the second and third groups.  No prizes for guessing which group they'll ultimately side with.

With a decade or more gone by since I first saw it, it's a bit easier to pick out the flaws with the film.  The fight scenes aren't as dynamic as they could be and the pace is a bit stop-start.  But it's still a solidly entertaining movie, not least because of how good Ian McKellen is as the leader of the villains.  But then, what movie isn't improved by having Ian McKellen in it?

Friday, 13 June 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)



Blessed with one of the most famous musical themes in cinema, and Sergio Leone's sun-drenched visual direction, this is not a film that is short on style.

It's a style it needs though, because at over two-and-a-half hours in length, it stretches its plot - three rival gunslingers are all after the same cache of money, but each knows only part of the details of where it is - until it is like one of those t-shirts that's been washed so often the neckline's gone all loose and wrinkly.

The film introduces the characters in reverse order of the title: the unfairly-named "Ugly", is Tuco, a bandit with a price on his head.  The "Bad" is Angel Eyes, a merciless killer who is initially the only one of the three who knows the gold exists (and who gets far too little screen time for my tastes).  Finally we have the "Good", though this seems a generous term for a man whose introduction to the film is running a scam that cheats small towns out of thousands of dollars.

Through a series of coincidences - coincidence is another thing the script stretches to the point of deformity - the three men encounter each other and begin a series of alliances and betrayals that will continue all the way to the final credits.

There are many good set-pieces in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and it ultimately has a pretty satisfying ending.  So it's easy to see why it is a highly regarded film, but as you may have gathered from my comments above, I'm not entirely sold on it.  It's considerably longer than it needs to be, with several scenes drawn out to the point where I became impatient with them, and the degree of happenstance required did not merely strain my suspension of disbelief, but snapped it quite sharply on at least two occasions

Still, if you have any interest in the technique of film-making, you should see this movie.  Sergio Leone does more to tell you about a person or a scene without a word of dialogue than some directors can manage with ten pages of exposition.  There have been few people as talented in the art of visual story-telling as he was.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Son of Godzilla (1967)







Has there ever been a good film with 'Son of' in the title?  I couldn't say for sure, but I do know that if there has been this one wasn't it.

A group of Japanese scientists are on a tropical island somewhere, conducting experiments of an ill-defined nature.  They've got something to do with changing the temperature though.  Why?  That is also ill-defined, but I'm guessing SCIENCE~!

A nosy reporter parachutes onto the island to pester the scientists with questions.  So they make him their cook.  This leads to supposedly 'humorous' scenes that really aren't.  It also leads the reporter to stumble across a young woman who apparently makes the island her home.  She'll be handy later for delivering exposition.

Anyway, the ill-defined experiment goes wrong, unleashing tempestuous weather.  Oh, and turning the island's 6-foot long Praying Mantises into 60-foot long Praying Mantises.  Said insects them unearth and crack open a huge egg, revealing a Baby Godzilla.

Good lord, I hate Baby Godzilla.

The Mantises attempt to kill the little monster, but unfortunately prove very inept at it.  This gives Big G time to rock up.  There's a brief fight, and Godzilla shows no difficulty in killing two of the three beasties and driving off the last.

Then we get subjected to lots of scenes of Baby Godzilla being "cute" while Big G tries to teach him how to roar and belch atomic fire.  Meanwhile, the humans run around trying to organise a means of getting off the island and accidentally wake a giant spider so Godzilla will have something to do in the last ten minutes of the film.

The giant spider itself actually looks pretty cool, but its battle with Godzilla is a dull re-run of the end of Mothra vs Godzilla, except for who wins.

Not worth your time.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Gia (1998)



Before her breakout commercial success as Lara Croft, but after her appearance in the delightfully gonzo Hackers (and well after she hoped we'd all forgotten her part in the execrable Cyborg 2), Angelina Jolie picked up her second Golden Globe for her performance as 70s supermodel Gia Carangi.

If you're like me, you had no idea who Gia Carangi was before you heard of this film.  But she was apparently a pretty huge deal in the late 70s fashion world, bursting onto the scene like a thunderbolt, and dominating magazine covers until an out of control heroin addiction led her to crash and burn.  Her career was effectively over by the time she turned 22, and four years later she would become one of the first well-publicised cases of a woman dying of AIDS.

That little bio pretty much spoils the main plot of the film, I guess, but there's obviously a lot more meat to it than that.  Gia's love life gets quite a bit of attention, for instance (in an apparently somewhat fictionalised manner).

So is it worth seeing, now you know Gia's fate?  Well, Jolie's performance is very good; her Golden Globe was well-deserved, I think.  But it is ultimately the only truly notable thing about the film.  We've all seen the 'person who apparently has it all who flames out' story before: history and fiction alike are littered with them.  They can still be very powerful and affecting, of course, but I don't feel the script of this biopic does enough to be considered much better than middling.  It's quite strong in the first hour or so, but to my mind it doesn't handle Gia's decline as well as it does her rise.

Probably worth your time only if you're a huge Jolie fan and don't have a copy of Hackers or Mr and Mrs Smith that you could watch instead.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

IRT Deadliest Roads, Season 2 (2011)




I visited Alaska in 2007, a trip which included a 2-day journey down the Dalton Highway (during September, so there was no snow).  It was one of the best travel experiences I've had, and I subsequently became a casual fan of the show Ice Road Truckers.  I didn't seek it out, but I'd watch it if it was on.

When I heard about this spin-off, on the other hand, I did seek it out, to the point of buying Season 2 when I wasn't able to catch it on TV.

The premise of Deadliest Roads is to take some of the truckers who normally work in the US or Canada and transplant them into other, extremely challenging trucking environments.  Season 1 had them working in the Himalayas; in this season, it's the Andes.

I should start by saying that I am under no illusions about the 'reality' part of 'reality TV'. I know there's a significant measure of dramatization included in all such shows.  That doesn't worry me.  I do dislike the 'game show' aspect of many of them, which is thankfully absent both from this and its parent show.

Anyway, this series starts with six North American truckers arriving in Bolivia to work the Yongas Road, often referred to as the 'Death Road', a single-lane, cliffside dirt road that claims about 300 lives per year.  They'll also tackle similarly dangerous roads in Peru, later in the season, most of them not designed for the large trucks they'll be driving.

The truckers are in three teams of two: it's expected that one person drives and the other acts as a spotter, checking the side of the truck the driver can't see, or getting out to provide guidance in especially sticky situations.  The teams range from 20-year veterans to rookies who've only ever driven in urban environments before.

As might be expected, the show's makers have chosen people with larger-than-normal personalities, and you'll soon grow to like or loathe each of them.  You can be sure of seeing the ones you dislike come unstuck at some point, though: this is not a show that is short on schadenfreude.

There's lots of stunning scenery, some interesting glimpses of life in a very different part of the world, and lots of trucks getting stuck, or nearly-but-not-quite-falling off cliffs.  It's quite an entertaining bit of nonsense, really.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Guys and Dolls (1955)



First things first: this is a musical, so if you are one of those soulless monsters who doesn't like musicals, you'll hate it.  For everyone else, it's pretty good fun.

Guys and Dolls introduces us to Nathan Detroit, the operator of the longest running illegal craps game in New York City.  Nathan's having great difficulty finding a place to run his latest game due to the police breathing down his neck, and he needs to find $1000 cash (quite a sum in the late 40s, which is when this is set) to secure a venue.

Enter Sky Masterson, a high-rolling gambler who'll wager on almost anything.  Nathan sees a chance to win the grand he needs, and suckers Masterson into a stacked bet: Masterson must persuade the straight-laced Sally Brown, member of the 'Save A Soul' association (a thinly disguised Salvation Army) to accompany him on a date to Havana Cuba, that very night.

Fortunately for Masterson (and, you know, for the movie actually continuing), Ms Brown has her own problems, and he might just be able to help her, if only she'll have dinner with him first ...

Naturally Masterson and Brown are going to fall in love in one night, split up over Masterson's duplicity, and then reunite at the end of the movie.  I sincerely doubt I'm spoiling anything by telling you that.  But the movie does a good job of making you want to see them get together, and of making their reasons for nearly splitting up more credible than they usually are in such fare.  It doubtless helps that they're played by Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons, both of whom turn in great performances, and bravely take on the singing duties of their respective roles.

The movie does have its flaws.  At nearly two and a half hours I think it is a bit too long.  And there's also the matter of the subplot involving Detroit's engagement to a night clubs singer.  You'll notice that I haven't mentioned that before now, and it's because frankly, it feels rather ancillary to the main narrative, which is very much about Masterson and Brown.

This is a fun romantic comedy musical, with some catchy numbers and a strong cast.  It's worth checking out.

Unless you're a soulless monster, that is :)

Sunday, 8 June 2014

For A Few Dollars More (1965)



The success of A Fistful of Dollars naturally spawned a sequel.  This film puts Eastwood's Man With No Name (referred to as 'Manco' by characters on-screen, and hereafter in this review) on the trail of a crazed bandit named El Indio.

Also on the trail of El Indio is Mortimer, a black-clad gunman some twenty years older than Manco.  Mortimer is played by Lee Van Cleef, and is frankly the best thing in the film.  Nobody does steely-eyed quite like him.

It takes a surprisingly long time for the two bounty hunters to cross paths, though it's clear from the first few scenes that it's going to happen.  Actually, the length of time things take to happen in the movie is a minor but recurring problem.  It's a little over two hours in run time, and it feels just a little bit too too long to me.  Cutting a scene or two, and trimming some time out of two or three others, would I think create a leaner film.

Anyway, when Manco and Mortimer finally meet, Manco isn't too keen on having competition for the reward.  Mortimer's skill with a gun, however, persuades him to attempt a partnership.  After all, there's plenty of money to be made from El Indio and his gang, and said gang is 14-strong.

So the two men set in train a plan to lure El Indio into a track and bag the richest bounty of their lives.  But of course, El Indio didn't become the subject of such a large bounty by being easy to catch ...

This film shows the same strong visual style as the first of Sergio Leone's westerns, and again has a solid soundtrack.  The acting's decent enough too, though the fact that the moved was filmed silent and the dialog recorded later is sometimes a little obvious.

I don't rate this film quite as highly as its predecessor, but it's still a well-executed tale of double-crosses and gunfights.  Worth a look if you like your heroes a bit on the 'anti' side.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

House of Cards (1990)



Some or all of you are likely to be more familiar with the Netflix series of the same name, but this is the original mini-series adaptation of Michael Dobbs's novel.  I was a big fan of the show when I originally saw it back in the late 1990s, but does it still hold up nearly 25 years after it was made?

The answer is not entirely.  Not because the show is any worse now than then, though it is notably dated by political and technological developments that would render may of the main character's ploys impossible today, but because of the aforementioned Netflix series.  The newer version is a much more extensive and ambitious project, already running 26 episodes (this had 4).  I've only watched the first season of it so far, but the extra time allowed by the longer format allows for a more nuanced and complex narrative, and feels more 'real' because the protagonist has to work a lot harder to succeed in it.

But that's enough spruiking of the new series.  This is still a fine bit of TV.  It trades pretty heavily on the charisma of its two leads, but fortunately they're up to the task.  Ian Richardson is excellent as the ruthless Francis Urquhart, while Sussanah Harker manages the difficult task of making her character smart but still credulous enough to be drawn into his web.

Urquhart is chief whip of the Conservative Party, responsible for keeping the rank and file MPs in line and adhering to government policy.  The party has recently won a narrow election victory and Urquhart has been promised a senior role in the new administration.

Instead, the incoming Prime Minister reneges on his earlier promise, insisting that Urquhart is too valuable in his current role and that the government could not survive without him.  Urquhart is initially dismissive of this statement when he discusses it with his wife, but she suggests that there is more truth in it than he realises: that he could bring down the Prime Minister, and take the job for himself.

So begins Urquhart's Machiavellian plan to seize the most senior postion in UK politics.  As I said before, said plan simply would not work today.  Even in the context of the late 80s or early 90s, I think some elements are dubious.  For a group of supposedly sophisticated politicians, his rivals sure do leap eagerly into the traps he lays for them.  The story tries to justify that, but I'm not sure it wholly succeeds.

Those quibbles aside, however, this is an engaging if rather cynical show, with strong performances at its core.  Worth checking out if you don't mind the bastardry, especially if you want something that's less time-intensive than the Netflix adaptation.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Bloodrayne (2005)



Uwe Boll is the kind of film-maker who says 'actresses want too much money to appear nude - just hire some prostitutes for the scene instead'.  And this is the kind of movie where he says it (in the scene with Meatloaf - because a has-been rocker is someone Boll will pay for).

Based, as many of Boll's films have been, on a computer game, Bloodrayne has spawned two dull as dishwater sequels.  I'm not sure why, given that it made back less than 20% of its budget at the box office, but Boll's ways are mysterious.

So, full disclosure: this film is terrible, but I like it anyway.  It's not as terrible as Boll's House of the Dead was, nor do I have such an unreasoning affection for it as I do for that catastrophically ill-conceived zombie film, but it's pretty darn bad.  Kristanna Loken has her merits as an actor, but none of them (unless you count her figure) are show-cased in this film.  Michael Madsen appears on the verge of falling over drunk in almost every scene he's in.  Michelle Rodriguez seems to be trying to put on some kind of accent (or possibly just disguise her normal accent) with uneven degrees of success.  And then there's the script.

Oh my, the script.

I mean, I'll give the writing in Bloodrayne this much: it feels like something out of a computer game.  We have the characters receiving their quest in a tavern, not one but two expositionary conversations that don't even try to disguise the fact that they're nothing but info dump cut scenes, and a blatant 'mini boss fight' about halfway through.

It's also deeply stupid.  For starters, while there are incompetent minions in most forms of media, the minions in Bloodrayne take it to a new level.  "How do they dress themselves in the morning?" levels of dumb.  Then there are the character motivations which appear, whole cloth, out of nothing. "I will not harm you.  I desire to kill only vampires" says Rayne, two minutes after we saw her kill half a dozen humans, and ten minutes before she'll kill a bunch more.  I mean sure, the humans she kills are all bad people, but they're still not vampires, you know?

The actual plot?  It goes something like this: Rayne's the half-human, half-vampire child of Ben Kingsley's boss vamp, and she's got to go on a quest to recover some magical macguffins in order to be strong enough to take him on in a fight.  There will be large quantities of blood sprayed (it rarely just spills in this film) in the process.

Hypnotically bad.  This was the second time I've seen the film (though of course I'd not previously watched the actual DVD), and I had just as much fun as the first time.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Barbarossa: Siege Lord (2009)







This movie - which was also released under the title Sword of War - pretty clearly wants to be the new Braveheart almost as badly as that film wanted to be the new Spartacus.  There are lots of stirring speeches about 'Freedom!' (or at least, they're supposed to be stirring), lots of battle scenes, and skullduggery and treachery aplenty before the final climactic battle between good and evil.

Or actually, not between good and evil, but protagonist and antagonist.  Because one of the ways in which this film does vary from its obvious inspirations is in having a fairly sympathetic protrayal of both sides of the conflict.  It's apropos that this film is named for the antagonist of the piece, rather than the protagonist, as it nicely signals this more balanced approach.  I doubt that was actually the intent of the choice of name: that probably comes down to the fact that Barbarossa is a highly recognisable title in Europe.  But it makes a good 'after the fact' symbol.

So does this film measure up to either of its forebears?  Well, it's certainly no Spartacus.  The acting is decidedly uneven.  I suspect the dialogue was done entirely in post production, which probably contributes.  The script also has some howlingly silly stuff in it: the aforementioned speeches being one of them, but the 'secret weapon' of the 'heroes' takes the cake.  It's not a good plan to have your climactic battle scene reduce your audience to tears of laughter.

Despite all that, I quite enjoyed this highly fictionalised account of the war between Emperor Frederick I (Barbarossa) and the Italian cities of the Lombard League.  The relatively sympathetic portrayal of the Emperor helped, I think.  Sure, the Lombards are obviously intended to be the heroes, with all their shouts of 'Freedom!', but Barbarossa is at least shown to be an honorable - if implacable - foe.

I can't ultimately recommend this, because it's longer than it needs to be, and the final battle is an astonishingly ill-conceived piece of cinema.  But I didn't mind the experience as a whole.  You don't often see film-makers shooting (however inaccurately) for this kind of historical epic, these days.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Downfall (2004)



The list of victims of Hitler's regime is enormous.  Most people are probably aware of some of them: the six million Jews murdered in concentration camps, the progroms against homosexuals, the Allied soldiers, the families suffering through the Blitz, and so on.

This movie is about one group of victims who tend to be overlooked: the German people themselves.  Make no mistake, I don't mean that it attempts to put them on the same standing as the Jews (I'd be outraged if it did), and it does not attempt to deny their culpability in their own ... well, their own downfall.  There's a memorable scene in the film where Goebbels sneers 'The German people chose this.  They gave us the mandate, and now they're going to get their throats cut.'

But having accepted that the German people were culpable in the horrors that befell them, the film pulls no punches in depicting them.  Whether it be the 12 year old boys enlisting to fight, the old men executed for not taking up arms, or just the failure of anyone to do anything to stop Hitler's madness, the film does not shy away.  Nor does it flinch from showing the various ways in which the Fuhrer's entourage react to increasingly inevitable defeat.  Some respond with unflinching fanaticism, others with futile outrage at the impending disaster, and still others with bleak fatalism.  Importantly, these are all reactions to losing the war, not to waging it.  No-one gets ret-conned into a secret anti-war activist.  Like I said, there's no attempt to deny culpability.

This is a well made film on every front, albeit one that will not be to everyone's taste.  If nothing else, it's a 2.5 hour subtitled movie.  Honestly, I think it's a little too long at that run time: Hitler commits suicide around the 90 minute mark and without Bruno Ganz's mesmerising performance the film feels a little adrift.  So did the people in Hitler's circle, I am sure, but if your characters are bored you wouldn't illustrate that by boring the audience, would you?

And then of course there is the subject matter, which is pretty grim.  Lots of people prefer their films to be lighter than this one.  So it won't be for everyone.  But if you want some idea of what the last days in Berlin were like, based on the memories of someone who was there (one of Hitler's secretaries), then this is well worth your time.  It's a powerful if occasionally deeply uncomfortable movie to watch.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

George of the Jungle (1997)



This is a very silly movie.

I mean very silly.  Massively over the top pratfalls, wrestling matches with lions, a talking ape, and characters who actively interact with the narrator.

It's also jolly good fun.

The original George of the Jungle was an animated series that ran for a mere 17 episodes (each episode containing three 10 minute shorts) in 1967.  How it got turned into a movie thirty years later I don't know, but I'm rather glad it did.

George himself is a blatant Tarzan parody, possessing all the strength, stamina and animal controlling tricks of the original, but coupled with dim-witted good humour and a habit of accidentally swinging into trees.  Fortunately, he's aided by his much smarter ape 'brother', Ape, and by his 'big grey peanut-lovin' poochie' Shep (an elephant).

In the movie, George happens to save an American tourist - Ursula - from a lion.  She is knocked out in the fracas, so he takes her back to his tree-house to recover.  Alas, her jerk of a fiance follows her, and in that fracas, George ends up being shot.  But only slightly.  Still, it gets the fiance sent to jail and motivates Ursula to bring him back to the US for medical treatment.

You can probably guess what follows: comedic spots about George's unfamiliarity with the modern world, a growing attraction between the two leads, an an overbearing mother who has no intention of seeing her daughter marry some 'jungle man'.  Why is it always the mother in these things, I wonder?

This movie skates by on its self-aware, irreverent script and the affable charm of its leads, but frankly, that's the smart call with a premise like this.  George of the Jungle delivers a hour and a half of light entertainment that should leave you smiling at the end.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)







Godzilla's seventh screen outing pits Big G against a giant lobster.  Not a giant lobster with laser vision, or a giant lobster with rocket-powered claws ... just a very large shellfish.  I'd accuse the studio of becoming lazy with their monster ideas, but his previous enemies were a dragon and a giant moth, so it's a little late for 'becoming'.

So Ebirah isn't exactly the most innovative or exciting concept for an enemy.  And he's honestly not very imposing in combat, either.  He gets in a few licks against Godzilla, but everyone's favourite atomic dinosaur never really looks all that troubled by is new foe.

Despite the above, I quite liked this.  The human cast are a step or too more entertaining than they usually are, and Astro Monster's excessively gonzo characterisation of Godzilla has been toned back considerably (though not entirely).  So hurray for both those factors.  Big G gets to rampage a bit more aggressively in this one, too.  Some pretty fun model smashing sequences.

The plot?  Oh yeah ... a fishing boat goes missing, but a psychic assures the family of one of the missing fishermen that he isn't in the land of the dead.  So his brother steals a yacht to go looking for him, as you do.  He brings along several other guys (without their consent).  They get shipwrecked on an island, and discover an Evil Conspiracy, which is protected by the eponymous Horror of the Deep.

Fortunately, Godzilla happens to be taking a nap under a mountain on that very island.  What are the chances?  So all out heroes need to do is avoid being caught by the evil conspiracy, wake up Godzilla so he can beat up Ebirah, and somehow avoid becoming collateral damage in the process.  Piece of cake, right?

If you're a kaiju fan, this is a pretty fair offering.  Otherwise, you can skip it.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Throw Out The Anchor! (1974)



Ahh, the 70s.  When racial stereotypes, cracks about women's lib, and drunk people falling over were enough to make you a comedy.

This film introduces us to the Porterfield family, widower Jonathon, his son who doesn't matter to the movie's events at all, and his daughter who has one plot-relevant moment and gives us some exposition but is otherwise almost as extraneous as the son.  They're in Florida because dad's booked a holiday on a houseboat.

Unfortunately, he booked it eight months earlier and the lush who owned the boat has drunk the money rather than using it to get the house boat ready.  The Porterfields aren't easily dissuaded though and and squat in some of the boats in the area until the locals agree to fix up a vessel for them.

Naturally, repairing said junkheap leads to bonding between the newcomers and their hosts, and when Evil Businessmen attempt to drive out the locals in order to build a road to nowhere (which they want to do for reasons that are never made clear), the Porterfields and their new-found friends band together to indulge in a bit of larceny, stealing the machinery that is required to build the road.

For reasons to do with the movie needing a happy ending, the bad guys don't just call the cop on these criminals and instead cave to their demands, calling off the whole ill-defined nefarious plot.

With more focus on the younger characters and more energy overall, this might have passed for a cheap knock-off of an Apple Dumpling Gang-esque nature (which it couldn't be since it came out a year earlier).  As is, it kinda uncomfortably tries to fit a lot of fairly sleazy humour into a G-rated film.

It's not awful, but you're not missing anything by not seeing it.