Film Review: Kong: Skull Island

I love the original King Kong, ever since I picked up a cheap VHS copy. While dated, it told a simple story  very effectively and movingly. I’ve always been a sucker for stop-motion effects. I’ve never seen the ’70s remake but I remember being psyched when Peter Jackson released his, although this was ollowed by crushing disappointment as a wealth of CGI and Jack Black couldn’t cover the fact that it was bloated and boring.

One of the things that I always loved was the mysterious Skull Island that Kong calls home until he’s stolen away to New York. The island is home to other monsters, and you always wonder where Kong came from. Was he part of a giant ape race? Or a singular freak of nature?

This movie focuses on the island and gives Kong a fresh backstory. It’s not a retread of the original, and a new approach to the character, which I think is the way to go.

kong-skull-island-poster-2

The movie kicks off in 1944 when two pilots crash on the same beach, one Japanese and one American. They try to kill each other and chase each other through the jungle, until their fight is interrupted by the arrival of a massive ape.

We then jump almost thirty years forward to 1973, and two representatives of an organisation called Monarch are trying to get support for a mission to an uncharted island. The senior official, Randa (John Goodman) is fearful for the organisation’s future and wants to get the mission set up before the Vietnam War ends. However, the senator dismisses his theories of “monsters” and only agrees when Randa’s assistant Brooks (Corey Hawkins) points out that as they know little of the island there is no telling what is there and that if they hesitate the Russians might beat them to it.

Randa requests a military escort and is provided with the Sky Devils, a helicopter squadron about to ship back from the war. Headed by Colonel Packard (Samuel L Jackson) they will fly the scientists to the island which is surrounded by a perpetual storm. Also recruited is James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) a former SAS Captain noted for his skill in jungle survival and expertise in uncharted territory.

Rounding off the group is photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) a photojournalist who clashes with Packard who blames the media for negatively effecting support for the war back home.

They arrive at the island where the scientists plan to use explosions to map the geologic nature of the island, which turns out to be hollow beneath the bedrock. Unfortunately the explosions anger Kong, a giant ape who attacks the choppers and brings all of them down, scattering the survivors across the island.

Conrad leads Weaver, Brooks and a handful of others through the jungle seeking the rendezvous point. Meanwhile, Packard leads the majority of his men and Randa towards one of the isolated pilots, Chapman (Toby Kebbell). Packard gets the full story from Randa, who holds to the “hollow earth” theory that there are pockets beneath the earth’s surface where monsters dwell.

kong-skull-island-screen1

Packard wants some answers

Intent on revenge Packard aims to reach Chapman’s chopper and use the weapons and explosives to kill Kong.

Conrad’s group run into the local tribespeople and are introduced to Hank Marlow (John C Reilly), the American pilot who crashed there at the beginning. He has been taken in by the locals and explains that he befriended the Japanese pilot who was killed by another monster years earlier. Marlow explains that the native population worship Kong as a king or god, as he protects them from what he dubs Skull Crawlers, vicious beasts that try to eat them. Kong’s race have long held this role, but as the last of his kind the locals are fearful that when Kong dies the Skull Crawlers (henceforth known as SCs) will run wild, having nothing to fear. The explosives dropped by the group will have roused some of the beasts, although they suspect that “the big one” will remain underground.

Marlow shows the group his boat, made from debris of the fighter planes and other vehicles that have crashed at the island. They head for the rendezvous but find Packard, who insists they head on for Chapman. The group are attacked by a SC, and after suffering heavy losses manage to kill it. When Packard’s plan is revealed Marlow objects, supported by Weaver, who Packard draws his gun on. Conrad cools the situation and leads the civilians to the boat, however, he decides he needs to stop Packard and with Weaver and Marlow returns.

Packard’s men attack Kong and while many of the men are killed, Kong is injured. Then the Big SC arrives. Kong battles it, but is weakened and the nasty chases the humans. Conrad, Weaver, Marlow and the surviving members of the Sky Devils make for the boat but following Conrad’s instructions Brooks has left at dawn. Attempting to escape on foot they use their meagre weapons on the BSC but their weapons don’t seem up to the task.

Does the battered Kong have the strength to bring it down? If he can’t what happens to the survivors and the monsters?

Okay, here’s the thing I really loved this movie which delivers pretty much from the jump. The 1944 prologue was a nice touch and the character of Marlow provides a neat way to provide exposition and Reilly’s performance as the slightly unhinged survivor is charming and entertaining, stealing most scenes he’s in. Reilly should be praised for balancing humour with genuine emotion, with the frazzled, lonely man talking about what might await for him at home being quite touching and tying into the film’s theme of whether soldiers can ever truly come back from war.

08-john-c-reilly-kong-skull-island-w600-h315-2x

Reilly in scene stealing form

This is touched on in Conrad, Hiddleston’s calm and collected action hero, who is recruited by Randa who observes that men go to war in search of something, and Conrad’s continuing presence in Vietnam suggests he is yet to find whatever that is.

It’s most evident in Jackson’s powerful performance as the vengeance seeking Packard. During his first meeting with Weaver where he blames the media for effecting support and moral for the war in Vietnam, she asks him incredulously if he is blaming them for losing the war. His response that the war wasn’t lost, instead “abandoned” shows an insight into his psyche and his dogged pursuit of a fight with Kong shows that he is not ready to come home yet.

Jackson is always watchable and here he is on fine form as the tightly wound soldier who slowly unravels and becomes obsessed. He’s mesmerising on screen.

Tom Hiddleston is pretty good as an action hero, even if he does look a little clean cut and smooth for an SAS officer who spends time alone in the jungle saving POWs. That being said, his quiet performance is well done and he has moments where he charms. He also handles the action sequences like a boss.

kong-header

Hiddleston and Larson in action

But it’s hard not to feel bad for Brie Larson who while capable enough has an underwritten role as the photojournalist accompanying the mission.

The period setting works wonders for me as it handily explains how Skull Island has remained undiscovered until the movie and means the humans have older, less sophisticated weapons for their fights. It also means that the movie has a belting soundtrack of ‘Nam era songs (Bowie, Black Sabbath and Creedence Clearwater Revival), and borrows heavily from the imagery of that war- fires engulfing jungle, helicopters flying low and the look of the soldiers. The film looks fantastic and the mash up of Nam movie iconography and giant monsters works for me, unsurprisingly.

The monsters here are fantastic, as is all of the island. The native tribe and their walled village is well done as is their temple to Kong, replacing the African style tribe of the original with a more Asian vibe fitting the Pacific setting. The island location is beautiful, with mountains, dense jungle and panoramic views of the landscape being worth the extra IMAX charge alone.

This is only the second movie I’ve seen in IMAX (the other being Doctor Strange) and it is proving to be worth the money, and vastly superior to normal 3D. This is the kind of epic movie that warrants the big screen and enhanced visuals, and it delivers throughout, both in the titanic smackdowns and in the scenes on the groud amongst the trees.

The movie succeeds where the Jackson movie stumbled by putting Skull Island front and centre and we get to see plenty of the island’s nature. Alongside Kong and the SCs we also get supersized versions of spiders and water buffalo, a reference to giant ants and some seriously vicious pterodactyl style critters. The island is set up as a dangerous place to be and the action sequence are uniformly well executed throughout.

It’s a relentless thrill ride and has some solid performances, and a sense of fun to proceedings, making it considerably more enjoyable than the most recent Godzilla movie, which this will apparently cross over with. Hopefully the monster mash will lean more towards this, which is more fun and has better human characters. The romance between Hiddleston and Larson’s characters might be underdeveloped, but aside from this the major players hold the attention and the director knows that this is secondary to letting Kong do his thing.

I’ve always preferred Kong to Godzilla because his ape features are more expressive and that in every incarnation he has moments of gentleness. The backstory here of him as the island’s top dog and protector is a nice touch and I felt it delivered.

c5q8bmwu0aex3iz

Hail to the king

A big, action packed blockbuster, this is gorgeous to look at, filled with nice moments and just plain fun. It might lack the emotional punch of the original, but it’s still kept me involved throughout.

Verdict: The ’70s setting is a nice touch, the cast do well with what they get and the movie knows that it’s main strength is Kong and lets him cut loose. Hugely entertaining. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Advertisements

My Favourite Films #39: Gremlins

News of a Gremlins remake/reboot is not good, well, at least not to me. While I appreciate that improved special effects might do a better job of bringing Gizmo and Co to life, I kinda think that misses the point and that the slightly shonky effects are actually part of the original’s charm.

gremlins poster

Also the movie belongs to a different time, the 80s when people kinda accepted that kids liked a bit of ugliness and being creeped out. The movie ends with voiceover that tells us that next time something glitches in the house it might be the horrible little beasties we’ve just seen kill and devour innocent civilians. That’s messed up.

Directed by B-movie expert Joe Dante (who at this stage had already made The Howling and Piranha) it’s definitely in his wheelhouse for dark comedy and the Christmas-set movie plays with it’s small town America setting to great effect. It’s like if Bedford Falls was besieged by monsters.

Eccentric inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) visits Chinatown and discovers a cute little critter called a mogwai, which he names Gizmo and buys as a gift for his son Billy (Zach Galligan).

Gizmo

Gizmo

 

The mogwai comes with rules-

  1. No bright lights, mogwai hate bright lights and sunlight is lethal.
  2. Don’t get them wet
  3. Don’t feed them after midnight.

Pretty simple, right? In short order Billy breaks rules one and two. Getting Gizmo wet makes him reproduce while feeding them after midnight turns them into decidedly less cute and more vicious gremlins. The leader of the gremlins, Stripe sets out to build up an army and they set about attacking the residents of the small town.

Stripe

Stripe

It’s now up to Billy and his love interest Kate (Phoebe Cates) to stop Stripe and the others and save the day, with Gizmo in tow.

This movie rocks because it has a magnificent dark streak, with Dante reveling in the anarchic, vicious gremlins and their trail of destruction. There are some wonderfully over-the-top deaths, most notably one involving a stair-lift, and the movie swings between creepiness and giggles as Dante weaves in daft sight gags, one liners and surrealism.

One of the best moments for me comes when Kate tells the story about why she hates Christmas, a morbidly funny sequence which pokes fun at the “tragic backstory” trope and which had my Mum and me in hysterics, although MWG wasn’t quite so amused and reckons I have a sick sense of humour, which is just as well for this movie.

Kate tells her tragic story, the Page's laugh

Kate tells her tragic story, the Page’s laugh

The whole movie is a bit of a mess in some ways but it gets by on sheer character and energy, hurtling forwards with fantastic verve. It seems to know that if it hesitates it’s lost so it keeps going until the end.

Dante knows his B-movies and plays on the traditional genre themes (disbelieving cops, nasty characters getting their just desserts etc), crafting a movie which works both as a comedy and a horror, being genuinely jumpy and unsettling in places. The effects have aged terribly in places but the puppetry ensures that the gremlins always feel realistic and have a weight that CG often lacks, that being said Gizmo remains extremely cute.

The cast do their jobs well, but it’s all about the critters, really, although you do wonder how Phoebe Cates proceeded to vanish from the screen after such a promising start to her career. It also features 80s icon Corey Feldman in a small supporting role.

It’s a nasty, funny gem of a movie and an unlikely shout for one of the best Christmas movies ever made.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Godzilla (SPOILERS!)

Everybody craps on the 1998 Roland Emmerich version of Godzilla, and it is a deeply flawed movie, but at least it’s fun. There are daft gags and likable characters played by Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno and Hank Azaria, and for that reason it is infinitely better than the latest reboot.

godzilla 1998 poster

Which is disappointing because director Gareth Edwards had really impressed me with Monsters, his first flick. It followed a pair of characters as they attempted to navigate their way through a world where giant monsters were constantly a background threat, appearing in the distance or briefly glimpsed. It was a great movie based on two characters you invested in and the mysterious creatures were interesting.

godzilla 2014 poster

The problem is, with Godzilla we know what’s coming and the audience wants the giant lizard to start smashing stuff up early, but Edwards still goes for the slow reveal, with a few quick glimpses of Godzilla’s fins before he turns up. Apparently big G was knocking around in the ’50s and the reason the Yanks nuked the South Pacific so much, and he’s lain dormant since (here Godzilla is prehistoric, not radioactive in origin).

There are other monsters too, the MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) who are the bad guys. They feed of radiation and are responsible for the tragic backstory of our heroes Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Joe works at a nuclear power plant and in ’99 it’s attacked by one of the MUTOs which has awoken from it’s cocoon, with his wife buying the farm during the attack. In the intervening period they’ve become estranged due to Joe’s obsession with finding out what really happened, knowing it wasn’t caused by an earthquake and curious as to what’s being hidden in the quarantine zone.

Ford, meanwhile, is a bomb disposal expert for the US Navy and lives in San Francisco with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son. Ford is just back from 14 months away, but has to leave after Joe is pinched in Japan. He gets Joe out and invites him back to the US, but Joe wants to go visit one last time to test a theory that something is “talking” from there.

In the quarantine zone they get pinched and witness the MUTO awaking and killing a bunch of folks, including Joe. The MUTO has apparently been calling it’s mate who’s been stashed by the Americans in Nevada and is also ready to get it on. But there’s a third voice in the monster mash- Godzilla.

Expert Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) believes that G is en route to lay the smack down but the problem is the military don’t believe him and want to nuke the MUTOs and Godzilla in the middle of the ocean, which is dumb as they feed of radiation. Whatever, Ford travels home but is present when MUTO 1 hits Hawaii and then MUTO 2 smashing its way through Nevada. They’re all heading to one place- you guessed it, San Francisco.

Bored yet? Because I was. I almost fell asleep half way through.

Good gods almighty, there is no excuse for a monster movie being this dull. You pay your money to see Godzilla smashing stuff up, and with the promise of other monsters you expect a fun ride. But Edwards approaches it all too seriously, there’s an overdose of slow mo in the Godzilla vs MUTOs handicap match which I think was meant to get the audience to feel bad as the King of Monsters takes a pasting, but as we’ve barely met the critter and it just looks like a giant lizard I wasn’t feeling it.

godzilla

 

One of the major criticisms of Emmerich’s effort was that the beastie had no character, as the old rubber suit ‘zilla had an odd likability to it, but the new version is just as hard to warm too. There’s a moment where a knackered G makes eye contact with Aaron Taylor-Johnson and it’s clearly meant to be an emotional moment of connection, but it doesn’t work as it’s just four lifeless eyes staring back at each other.

I can’t remember a lead performance as wooden and uninteresting as ATJ’s work here. The character of Ford drifts along being present at all the major events, with terribly bad luck, and I get that they need a connecting presence, but I didn’t give a damn about Ford and his family. ATJ, who was charming as KickAss and even made John Lennon likable, is painful to watch here. The character has no defining qualities, we’ve had barely any chance to meet him as an adult, and aside from one evening with his family which felt so hackneyed it could have been an advert for John Lewis.

To illustrate how bad he is when his nipper asks “Will you be here tomorrow?” ATJ responds with a look that seems to say “Is this kid an idiot, course I’ll be here in the morning” where I’m sure he’s meant to look hurt/sad/upset. Also, while he’s broadly heroic in the end he just drifts along for most of the film, and never engages. I might be showing myself to be a child of the 80s but would it have killed the scriptwriters to throw in some banter or quips into the mix? Something to give the illusion of character.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson- They could have just used an action man

Aaron Taylor-Johnson- They could have just used an action man

How bad is he? Taylor Kitsch was better in Battleship.

The film is doomed as soon as Cranston bites the dust, as he’s the only interesting on screen presence and his character’s fire is the closest it comes to genuine emotion.

Bryan Cranston as Joe is the only thing that connected with me

Bryan Cranston as Joe is the only thing that connected with me

Ken Watanabe is screwed over by having very little to do, which also does for Elizabeth Olsen and Sally Hawkins’ Watanabe’s partner in science. The rest of the cast are equally dull and underwritten.

Watanabe: Wasted

Watanabe: Wasted

I can only think of two decent moments in the whole flick- casino customers in Vegas oblivious to the news coverage of MUTO 2’s rampage until it bursts into the room and Godzilla taking out MUTO 2 by blasting her with flame breath right into the mouth and tearing off the head. That’s it. Two moments in just over two hours. I gotta say I was surprised it was only two hours, because it felt a lot longer.

A clearly talented director and cast are wasted, and what should have been a big fun blockbuster vanishes in a haze of mediocrity and poor pacing. Woeful stuff.

Just watch Pacific Rim, it’s a lot better. Hell, watch the ’98 flick again.

Verdict: Edwards fumbles terribly, with this a dull, overlong mess. Cranston’s death deprives us of the only interesting character as Taylor-Johnson sleepwalks his way from one underwhelming set piece to the next. Godzilla is revealed too late and the design makes him hard to warm too. Never has a monster mash been shot with such po-faced monotony. 3/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Pacific Rim

When I was a teenager I used to watch a lot of pretty terrible B-movies. My friends and I had a bit of a soft spot for zombie movies, low grade sci-fi and monster movies. One of my buddies introduced me to the joys of the old Godzilla movies where a man in a lizard suit would routinely smash up a model of Tokyo and battle other dudes in a variety of monster costumes. Hollywood also made a few monster movies and the best of these are the old school 50s flicks, which have the same kind of cheesy appeal. More recent attempts have failed to inspire- I personally don’t mind the 1998 Godzilla flick, as it’s kinda funny, but it definitely drops the ball monster-wise, and the Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus style movies are just too intentionally bad and don’t get me started on Jackson’s King Kong.

So, I was kind of looking forward to Pacific Rim when I heard about it.

pac rim pos

The premise seemed simple and daft enough to be fun- giant robots vs giant robots and it seemed to have a decent team behind it. I’m a massive fan of the director Guillermo del Toro’s blockbuster work (I haven’t seen Pan’s Labyrinth) with him directing a rather decent horror movie in Mimic, and three of my favourite comic book movies- Blade II, Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army. And the cast seemed decent too, del Toro regular Ron Perlman was in it, and I love that dude. Perlman’s co-star from the awesome Sons of Anarchy show, Charlie Hunnam was in the lead and it also featured one of my man crushes, the super cool Idris Elba.

Then I saw the trailer.

Oh, dear.

It looked terribly serious and yet at the same time stupid, like those computer game adverts which take themselves a bit too seriously (scrap the “profound” voice over and the broody music, it’s essentially running around shooting people, alright?). It didn’t seem to have any of del Toro’s unique, kind of nerdy love involved and it made me think of two things, neither of which was that inspiring:

  1. The Power Rangers
  2. A massive toy advert

So, I went in expecting the worst but hoping for the best. What I got was about half way between the two, and that’s kind of the problem, while a lot of this film is fun and there are a couple of good ideas, if asked if it was good I’d shrug and say “It’s alright.”

The movie pretty much launches right into the action with a voiceover explaining to us that a bunch of monsters, or Kaiju (Japanese for “strange creatures”), started appearing from under the Pacific, smashing their way through various cities around the world. With conventional weapons being too slow in bringing them down the world unites to build gigantic robots called Jaegers (German for “hunter”). These are piloted by humans who’s movements are copied by the suit, but with the mental interface being so intense for one person the pilots work in tag teams, linking with each other’s thoughts and moving as one.

One of these teams is our narrator, Raleigh Becket (Hunnam) and his brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff), who use the robot Gipsy Danger and fight off the American Coast. During a fight with a kaiju the robot is severely damaged and Yancy killed. Raleigh pilots the damage Gipsy to land but quits as a pilot, having been left rattled by having his brother die in his head.

Years later the Jaeger project is being decommissioned to the objections of it’s leader and Raleigh’s former commanding officer Marshall Pentecost (Elba), as the powers that be decide a wall is a better tactic and that the Jaeger’s will be held in reserve. Pentecost tracks down Raleigh and hires him to come join the unit again.

Raleigh (Hunnam) in training

Raleigh (Hunnam) in training

The wall proves ineffective and public opinion endorses the Jaegers, who’s fleet is severly depleted and down to just four robots- the Russian Chemo Alpha, Crimson Typhoon from China and the Australian robot Striker Eureka, which is the best in the business and piloted by and old comrade of Raleigh and Pentecost’s Hercules Hansen (Max Martini) who works with his son, Chuck (Robert Kazinsky) who’s basically a cocky jerk. The final ship is the restored Gipsy Danger, which Raleigh has to find a co-pilot for.

pac rim jaegers

Scientists are predicting that the kaiju attacks will become more frequent and eventually two or three will cross through the dimensional rift at a time. Pentecost’s plan is to send a powerful bomb through the rift and close it, despite this never having been possible before. He plans for Striker Eureka to deliver the bomb with the other three Jaegers acting as bodyguards/defence.

Pentecost’s right hand woman, Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) a young Japanese woman who wants to be a pilot and who has good test scores, but who Pentecost is reluctant to put in the mix. Raleigh likes her and senses her irritation at being on the sidelines and after a training session states he wants her as his co-pilot. Reluctantly Pentecost agrees but fears that Mako’s strong memories may distract her during the mental linking which is based on memories.

Can Mako and Raleigh overcome their personal problems to work as a team? Will Pentecost’s plan work? And what about the research of one scientist who attempts to mentally link with the kaiju to work out what they want, will that prove helpful or a risk to mankind’s fight for survival?

The cast are too good for the script, which is formulaic and rather cheesy, and the character arcs are all pretty clear from the start. That being said, it is fun in a loud, dumb way. It’s black and white as to who the good guys are, and the theme of countries coming together to fight is pretty cheesy but makes a change from the usual “America saves the day”. It’s also nice that the different nations robots have different styles and that the Aussies are at the forefront of it all. Sadly many of the crews suffer from what happens in the films of Robert Rodriguez- interesting looking characters aren’t given enough screen time to really show what they can do.

The thing that I was a bit disappointed with were the kaiju on jaeger fights. This will sound daft, but they’re a bit too CGI heavy, now I know busting out some dudes in suits would’ve invited ridicule but it might have been better or more interesting, but my problem with purely FX fights is that they just don’t feel real. There’s no sense of real peril or physical heft behind the pixels, which for me is a problem.

That being said, the fights are rather well choreographed and there’s a real brawling quality to the scraps which is entertaining enough in small doses. And at least you’re always clear on what’s going on, unlike the tedious robot on robot smackdowns of the the Transformers series.

There are flashes of humour and del Toro’s fanboy glee shines through at times, but it feels as though this quirky director is being restricted by the studio to deliver a more traditional, straight faced blockbuster. The only times the del Toro vibe really comes into it’s own is in some of the goofier dialogue exchanges and Ron Perlman’s character, who is rather entertaining, even if Perlman is seriously underused.

Not enough Perlman

Not enough Perlman

The cast all do their best with what they get, with Hunnam making a likable and charismatic lead, and looks like someone who can handle himself. His relationship with Kikuchi’s Mako is underplayed rather well, and the character of Mako is one of the film’s big plus points, as she’s a rather badass female character, clever and strong willed, and never treated as just eye candy and shown to consistently be able to hold her own alongside the boys.

Mako (Kikuchi) about to open a can of whupass

Mako (Kikuchi) about to open a can of whupass

There’s also something really sweet about her shyness around Raleigh, especially when she finds out he can understand what she’s been saying in Japanese. And the two share some chemistry with each other, even though their differences in character and culture, tying in with the theme of mankind being at it’s best when we pull together.

Idris Elba has the gravitas for the commanding officer role, and is still an engaging screen presence, but his character is cliched and his rousing speech at the end is a little too short to be genuinely inspiring (it’s got nothing on Bill Pullman’s Independence Day speech).

Everyone else does alright, but the comic relief of the stuck up, fussy English scientist grates within seconds of appearing, and the subplot of linking with the aliens, while helpful to the main plot is badly handled and the American scientist involved, who’s clearly supposed to be the goofy geeky comic relief actually just comes across as a bit of a pillock.

Overall I just found myself underwhelmed and frustrated because I kind of sense that del Toro is probably the Hollywood director who could pull of a big monster movie, but here he never hits his stride.

An interesting note is that this is the second mainstream Hollywood blockbuster I’ve seen this year where the objectifying seems to be of the male leads, the first being Man of Steel. The women stay fully clothed and shot respectfully (no leering camera angles) while the male leads both go shirtless to show off their ripped physiques. It’s a nice change, and both leads are extremely buff, but speaking for the out of shape fanboys out there, it does little for the ego. Although I guess that’s what women have been putting up with for years.

Verdict: Distinctly average, but with a couple of nice touches. Dumb fun in places but nowhere near as fun as it should have been. Disappointing given the director and the cast. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Bad Movies I Love #6: Anaconda

I love a great bad movie, and this is definitely one of the finest of the genre.

anapos3

A tagline better than the film deserves

The movie follows a film crew headed up by director Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez) is travelling down the Amazon river to make a documentary about a lost native tribe, with the help of Terri’s old flame, anthropologist Cale (Eric Stoltz). The rest of the team are Terri’s old friend and cameraman Danny (Ice Cube), soundman Gary (Owen Wilson), production manager Denise (Kari Wuhrer) and stuffy English presenter Westridge (Jonathan Hyde).

Here’s the thing, remembering that this film was made in 1997, you can pretty much already tell who’s not going to make the end credits alive.

Terri and Cale hook up, as do Gary and Denise. Along the way they pick up stranded snake hunter Serone (Jon Voight) a character who’s dodgy vibe could only have been made clearer if he’d entered to old timey “DA-DA-DAAA!” music and been dumping a mysterious carpet off the side of his boat.

The team become suspicious of Serone, who pushes for them to travel a specific route, which becomes necessary after Cale is injured by a suspicious bug attack and it is the quickest way to help.

Serone then reveals that he is hunting a record breaking Anaconda which will make him a big amount of cash, if brought in alive.

The team aren’t happy, although Gary sides with him as he sees it as a way of getting something from the trip, the atmosphere aboard becomes increasingly tense as Serone seizes control, armed with a gun, until an attempt to catch the snake ends in Gary’s death.

The snake attacks again and there are more deaths, Serone is stopped from killing Terri by Cale, who briefly rouses from his unconscious state. The snake is killed and Serone is missing, with Cale out for the count again. Terri and Danny try to get supplies before getting grabbed by Serone, who uses them as bait to catch an even bigger snake.

Can Terri and Danny escape? Will Serone get his comeuppance?

Yes. To both questions.

This film is a bog standard creature feature, although gifted with a pretty good cast and raised into “so bad it’s good” territory thanks to several aspects, most notably Jon Voight.

Voight is taking the money and running. He hams it up to laughable degrees as the Paraguayan snake hunter, meaning he puts on a weird accent and spends most of the film overacting, giving it the old shifty eyes to show he’s a baddie and eyeing up J-Lo.

Voight- warning this performance is not kosher

Voight- warning this performance is not kosher

There’s no subtlety to the performance and being Voight, you’re automatically suspicious of him and wonder why the hell you’d pick him up. Aside from Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher there has never been a better argument against playing the good Samaritan in a movie.

Possibly the only rival in terms of just collecting a paycheck is Stoltz, who has maybe 4 scenes where he’s not just lying there knocked out, and yet he’s still above the title. Stoltz probably couldn’t believe his luck when he got the script- “Make out with Jennifer Lopez, take out Jon Voight and lie around a lot- where do I sign?”

As for the rest of the cast, they’re all alright. This is prior to J-Lo becoming massive, and it’s quite fun to see her in this daft, campy B-movie setting, and she’s gorgeous throughout, despite what her character goes through. The only concession to this is that some of her clothes get a bit damp, but she does fairly well as the film’s feisty heroine and is likable enough.

MSDANAC EC006

I think I was bound to like the movie because of the presence of Ice Cube, who I’m a massive fan of. What I love most about the former NWA member is that despite his streetwise dialogue and “angry face”, he’s still an oddly cuddly figure on screen which kind of robs him of ever being a proper movie badass. His big screen work is patchy, from the good (Three Kings, Boyz N The Hood, 21 Jump Street) to regularly appearing in rather naff genre flicks (John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, Torque, XXX: State of the Union).

See, cuddly, even the snake wants to hug Cube

See, cuddly, even the snake wants to hug Cube

He’s quite good here as the loudmouth Danny, and it’s cool to see the black dude actually make it for a change.

The rest of the characters pretty much follow what they’re there to do to move the story along- the dodgy, anonymous captain of the boat is the first to get gobbled by the snake (not including the pre-credit killing of Danny Trejo).

Denise, the only other female character, does little other than whine, squeal and blub and it’s a bit of a relief when she buys the farm, just as it was with the non-Ripley woman in Alien. The film is also from the early stage of Owen Wilson’s career, which could be called the “Owen Dies” period (see also: The Haunting, Armageddon), it’s also his death which utterly kills the movie as a serious proposition due to the ludicrous “Owen in the snake” shot, where we see the outline of the departed Gary in the snake as it swims off. I can’t find a video, but rent the movie, it is a classic stupid movie moment.

The other stupid movie moment is when a character does something which the audience knows is clearly going to single their demise. I’m talking about the pompous English stereotype played by Jonathan Hyde. At the start of the film he’s annoying, but halfway through he’s, well, he’s still annoying but at least he’s getting on better with the other characters. He’s also a vital part of the team, being the only one who knows how to drive the boat.

So, when Cube asks if it’s hard to drive and Westridge shows him how, the audience can pretty much see the character putting his own head through the noose. If you find yourself in a B-movie and have a useful skill don’t show one of the above the title stars how to do it, or you’re pretty much for the chop.

Formulaic, bad effects and some dodgy acting, this movie has all the ingredients to make it a terrible movie, but somehow it’s naffness makes it rather good fun. Check it out if you’re wanting to watch a movie and not have to think that much.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


RetroReview: Cloverfield

Warning! SPOILERS AHOY!

So, at the weekend I finally got around to seeing this flick. I remember the build up before it was released and thinking, I might check that out but then I missed it at the cinemas and I kind of forgot about it. I hadn’t heard mixed reviews, but given the involvement of JJ Abrams I was confident it would be alright as I’m a massive fan of the stuff he’s been involved with (Alias, the Star Trek reboot, Mission: Impossible III, What About Brian? and the first series and a half of Lost. And just found out he wrote one of my favourite movies, Armageddon).

The film’s awesome teaser poster

The film is done in the found footage style, with all the action being filmed on a handheld camera wielded by the character, I missed the first few minutes, which seemed to be build up and background, and also include a disclaimer that the footage was found after the “Cloverfield” case.

The film starts with various clips caught on the camera of a young dude, Rob (Michael Stahl-David) and then settles in for the major events of the film which start at his going away party before he leaves for Japan. At the party his friend Hud (T.J. Miller) is given the camera to record testimonials and interviews various party goers, including Rob’s brother Jason and his girlfiend, Lily (Mike Vogel and Jessica Lucas respectively). Another friend of Rob’s, Beth (Odette Yustman) arrives and despite having been shown friendly and having slept together there is tension between them. They argue and Beth leaves.

Shortly after this there appears to be an earthquake and the guys go up to the roof where they see various things crashing down into the city, striking nearby. They leg it down to discover all sorts of mayhem is engulfing the city and outside the head of the Statue of Liberty smashes down. A large creature is spotted rampaging through Manhattan.

The four main characters, along with another party guest Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) decide to head for the Brooklyn Bridge, where they join a massive crowd of people. Rob receives a call from Beth, who is trapped and unable to move after the wall in her apartment collapsed.

Bewildered- Rob (Stahl-David), Marlena (Caplan) and Lily (Lucas) watch as the world goes to hell

The bridge is attacked and Jason buys the farm. The others leg it and Rob decides he’s going to go get Beth. They head across town, catching brief snatches of info from television which reveal that “parasites” have fallen off the beast and are snacking on New Yorkers. They get trapped in the subway where they come across the parasites and manage to fight them off, although Marlena is injured. They then run into the Army who are trying to launch a fight back. A Sergeant (Billy Brown) who explains to them that the situation is getting bad and they can go for Beth, so long as they’re back in time for the evacuation because the Army is planning to destroy Manhattan with their “Hammer Down Protocol”.

Can they rescue Beth? Will the Army stop the creature? Will Beth and Rob get it on? Will they get out of the city in time?

Here’s the thing with “found footage” flicks, it kind of robs the film of any tension because it implies that the camera has been discovered because whoever filmed it has kicked the bucket. Knowing that most of the characters at least will have bitten the dust makes it hard to invest too much in them.

However, I did find myself warming to some of them, especially the major cameraman Hud, who’s kind of a geeky loser who makes lame jokes, hmm, I wonder why I warmed to him the most.

Often with found footage the issue is why they’ve recorded everything and here it kind of makes sense, Hud was documenting the party and seems to enjoy the freedom the camera gives him. Later as things start to fall apart he keeps filming, almost as a way of coping but also states that “people need to see this”. Its a natural urge, as evidenced in all the footage and photographs people take during disasters, some kind of human need to document and record things for the future.

Lizzy Caplan as Marlena was the only actress I recognized, the rest being relative unknowns to me, which kind of helps with the feeling that these are normal folk and aiding the suspension of disbelief. Caplan does very well though as the sarky and slightly bitchy Marlena who seems irritated by Hud’s clumsy attentions, but whom she slowly starts to warm to. I found myself more engaged by Marlena and Hud than by the film’s central romance.

All the cast do well, playing it in a naturalistic way which feels unforced and capturing the sense of bewildered regular Joes trying to make their way as the world goes to hell around them. The one thing that felt a little flat was the Rob and Beth romance, while it drove the story and Stahl-David does a brilliant job playing the devoted and determined protagonist.

He provides one of the film’s best scenes, a heartbreaking moment, where he talks to his mother on the phone and has to break the news of his brother’s death. Until that point they’ve been on an adrenaline fuelled race through the city, but stranded in the subway the adrenaline ebbs away and in a moment of quiet the emotions finally catch up with them. The long distance shot shows his isolation, Lily joins him after a time, but Hud seems unwilling to go over, telling Marlena he wouldn’t know what to say and also, seeming to respect his friends’ need for privacy at that moment.

One of the movie’s best moments.

There are other great scenes, especially a creepy scene in the tunnels where a horde of rats stream by them. It hints something terrible is coming and a moment where Rob and Hud work out the night vision setting and the parasites are revealed is expertly done and heightens the creepiness.

The parasites are one of the film’s nicest touches. It makes sense that a massive beast would host them and its fun that while to the monster they’re a minor irritation but against humans they’re lethal predators.

All in all, I quite enjoyed that movie. It was an interesting take on the Godzilla style monster movie, pulling back from the military side or the scientists and instead focusing on a small group of normal people just trying to get out of its way. There are some well handled moments and in a way the low key hand held makes the spectacle and destruction more powerful and stunning when it kicks off.

It has flaws, a few characters could be shaded in more and the central love story could’ve been handled better, but for the most part I thought it worked, even if never fully engaged on an emotional level.

Verdict: One of the better found-footage movies, with some decent, natural performances and some good visual effects. A nice spin on the traditional monster movie. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.