4/27/16

BREAKDOWN - VIDEO REVIEW


I review the 1997 Kurt Russell thriller Breakdown.

A movie about ransom and donuts.

SPHERE - REVIEW


Based on a Michael Crichton novel, Sphere was a 1998 sci-fi film about a team of experts in various fields exploring some crashed underwater spaceship.

Directed by Barry Levinson, the film boasts an all-star cast with Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Coyote and Liev Schreiber all being part of the main team. Sphere is a psychological thriller that's a bit like a cross between The Abyss, Event Horizon, The Thing and Alien as the more the selected experts investigate the spaceship, the creepier the tone of the film becomes. Eventually, characters start dropping like flies as various unexpected threats start popping up randomly from killer jellyfish to giant squids. The discovery of a gold alien sphere in the middle of the spaceship leads to growing paranoia among the crew and various twists and turns.

There are references here and there to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and, indeed, the film attempts to capture the book's sense of adventure and claustrophobia but Sphere really has more of a B-movie horror feel to it, something which critics back in the day counted as a minus point. The same was said about Prometheus and it's likely that if you like the latter, you'll like Sphere since it has a similar tone. The cast is very good throughout and Levinson does a good job at making us distrust just about every character. Samuel L. Jackson is as excellent and tense as ever and, while it's odd to see Dustin Hoffman in a science-fiction setting, the fact it's an actor not usually associated with the genre playing that role adds some realism to his character.

Sphere has a terrific build-up and it's overall a very tense, suspenseful, well made thriller. Perhaps its old-fashioned take on the genre and its dark, unpleasant setting contributed to it being a flop back in the day but I definitely recommend the film as I feel it's an unfairly underrated sci-fi throwback with a lot going for it.

Sea it!

4/26/16

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR - REVIEW


A mere week after the release of The Jungle Book, we are given yet another live-action Disney movie to swallow, The Huntsman: Winter's War being the follow-up to Snow White & The Huntsman, a film which received mixed reviews from critics and audiences upon its release.

The marketing for this sort-of sequel was nothing short of puzzling with trailers and posters not exactly clarifying whether this was meant to be a straight-up sequel, a prequel or just a mostly unrelated spin-off. With the likes of Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth returning (Nick Frost also) but no-one else, this looked set to be a wholly unnecessary, confusing mess so it's no wonder Jungle Book, as bland as that remake may be, is currently trashing the film at the box-office. As it turns out, The Huntsman takes place both before the first film and after with Snow White getting a mention but no screen time. Theron's witch now has a sister (played by Emily Blunt) who becomes The Ice Queen following a traumatic super power-defining moment.

Having a fantasy film with an ice theme so close to Summer begs the question: why wasn't this a Christmas release? Surely more people would have been willing to check out a Frozen ripoff around that time of years. Indeed, The Huntsman steals a lot from Frozen but also Brave as Jessica Chastain is basically the live-action incarnation of the Scottish princess in Pixar's film and there are also some obvious Lord Of The Rings parallels with the mirror being the evil macguffin everyone seeks instead of the ring. So if there's one thing The Huntsman isn't it's original. It's also not at all necessary since it feels like a side quest in the Snow White story, a side quest you'd expect from the fourth movie in the franchise, not the first sequel.

When they're not busy butchering a Scottish accent, Chastain and Hemsworth do a good job with the action sequences, jumping around and kicking all sorts of butt while Nick Frost and Rob Brydon bring some welcome comic relief as the obligatory dwarves. Blunt and Theron are both very good as both witch queens in different ways, the former is more quietly disturbed while the latter is just as over-the-top and loud as she was in the first film. Having said that, Charlize Theron is hardly essential here and the movie would have probably made a bit more sense without having to shoehorn her character in. On the plus side, the special effects are creative and look cool, the fight scenes are fun, there are some nifty twists and turns to the story and the whole thing is very entertaining.

Something about The Huntsman: Winter's War never sat right and still doesn't after watching it: it's far too derivative and it doesn't exactly add anything to that franchise. Luckily, it's a visually appealing film, a fun brainless adventure with a solid cast, a great score and an explosive climax so if you enjoyed Snow White & The Huntsman, it's worth a watch.

Flawed yet slick fantasy.

4/25/16

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR - VLOG 25/04/16


I talk a little about The Huntsman: Winter's War in yet another Disney-centric Vlog.

The iceman cometh!

ERASER - REVIEW


Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in Eraser, a 1996 action movie about a U.S. Marshal (with a thick Austrian accent) working for the Witness Security Protection Program who is forced to go solo when trying to protect someone because of a mole in his organisation who is attempting to frame him and capture the person he's looking out for.

Eraser gave Schwarzenegger a solid run at the box-office despite less-than-thrilled reviews from critics (though Roger Ebert enjoyed it). It's easy to see why the actor would get involved in a film like this since, on paper, it's the perfect Arnie vehicle complete with ridiculous action sequences, corny one-liners and an explosive climax. This may not be one of the actor's most memorable movies but it definitely has a lot going for it: one scene sees the bad guys get chomped by alligators in a zoo, because where else would a gun smuggling conspiracy lead us? Another scene involves Arnie hanging off an opened plane door before jumping off and getting entangled in his own parachute as the plane itself flies back towards him to finish him off, a sequence the Mission Impossible movies wish they could pull off.

The plot of the film is, unsurprisingly, full of holes but it hardly matters. Essentially, it's the typical MacGuffin-based storyline where everyone's after a specific thing (in this case a fancy X-ray gun), the main guy goes against the system to take down the baddies, yada yada yada. It's nothing special but it works. The special effects are actually really good and you can tell a lot of dough went into this movie. Arnie does a good job despite the fact his one-liners are particularly bad here while the ever-reliable James Caan makes an effective villain. Vanessa L. Williams isn't terrible but, unfortunately, she doesn't do much with her character and comes off as rather bland and forgettable as a result. Robert Pastorelli shows up about halfway through to bring some much needed comic-relief to the proceedings.

Eraser may not be one of Arnie's best or most unique movies but it remains a fun action-packed flick with enough absurd moments to keep it entertaining throughout. The ending may be nothing more than a big, silly shootout but what more could you ask for from a dumb mid-90's actioner?

Popcorn-gnawingly amusing.

You have been reviewed.

4/21/16

MY GRIM REAPER DEATHS (CASTLEVANIA)


A selection of my deaths at the hands of the Grim Reaper during my last Castlevania playthrough.

THE FLINTSTONES - REVIEW


In 1994, for some reason the world decided it was a good idea to make a live-action movie adaptation of The Flintstones, a cartoon as old as time itself about a goofy caveman suburbia with dinosaurs and modern-day appliances thrown in.

John Goodman takes on the Fred role with Rick Moranis playing his best friend and neighbour Barney Rubble. Their respective wives being Elizabeth Perkins (as Wilma) and Rosie O'Donnell (as Betty). Speaking of the actors, the cast in this movie is pretty darn spot-on and you can tell a real effort was made to make the film look like the classic show. The sets are surprisingly detailed, elaborate and impressive and, while some of the dinosaurs/animals are CGI, a majority of them are literally made by Jim Henson's Creature Shop and they look fantastic. The plot involves Barney and Betty adopting a wild child called Bam Bam after borrowing money from Fred. To make it up to him, Barney switches aptitude tests with Fred and the latter is selected by his boss to be a new executive in the company. Little do they know that the whole exam thing was meant to select a scapegoat for an elaborate embezzling scheme.

Critics back when the film was released took issue with the "adult" story elements the film deals with including embezzlement, office politics, mother-in-law jokes, sexy secretaries. To be honest, I'd say that criticism was flawed in that it suggests that kids are stupid and couldn't possibly understand a movie as complex as The Flintstones, which is ridiculous. In fact, I'd say the film does a great job at presenting an entertaining, simple cartoonish flick for younger viewers while including plenty of jokes and in-jokes (look out for Tar Wars and Steven Spielrock) for older viewers as well. After all, hasn't the point of The Flintstones always been that it's just like American suburbia except in caveman times and packed with silly dinosaur puns? If you're surprised to find that going in, the charm of the cartoon and the film will probably be lost on you.

Some highlights from the film include a cameo performance by The B-52's, a live-action shot-for-shot remake of the classic opening and closing sequences from the cartoon, Harvey Korman voicing a (dicta)bird, Kyle MacLachlan's slimy baddie, Halle Berry in the femme-fatale role as a character amusingly called Sharon Stone and Elizabeth Taylor in one of her very last film roles.

It's a shame The Flintstones gets a bad rep because it really is an entertaining, great-looking, funny comedy fans of the original cartoon should appreciate. It's hard to imagine how the filmmakers could have possibly made a better, more faithful adaptation.

Underrated.

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