09/02/2016

FUNNY FARM - REVIEW


Chevy Chase stars in this 1988 comedy about a sports writer who moves to the country with his wife (Madolyn Smith) in the hope of starting a new life away from the city as a novelist. What follows is kind of a cross between National Lampoon's Vacation and The Money Pit.

As soon as they settle into their new house, they are met with all sorts of bizarre problems: a mailman who throws letters out of a moving car, a body buried in the flowerbed, a coin-operated phone inside the house that isn't there, a dog that never stops running. Add to that Chase's overeager attempts to fit in with the inhabitants of the small town close by which, of course, backfire in a big way and his failure to meet his deadline writing-wise and you've got yourself a fun set-up for a screwball comedy. The first two-thirds of the movie are exactly what you'd expect with Chase slowly but surely losing patience with the new life he's chosen and starting to act nutty.

Then the film takes an unexpected turn when the couple decide to split up and get a divorce which leads to what's basically a completely different plot to a completely different movie. Chase and Smith decide to sell the house but in order to make sure that someone like them would get suckered into buying it, they ask the whole town to pretend like they're normal, friendly people. In exchange for a hefty sum of money. This all happens during the third act of the film but it sadly doesn't gel with the rest of it: this should have been the starting point of the film or none of it. What you wanna see is Chevy chase going all-out and making a real fool of himself for the last 20 minutes, perhaps getting sweet revenge on the town in some wacky way but instead you've got a new plot to worry about and it's really just one joke over and over again.

Funny Farm starts strong and builds to some very funny moments. Chase and Smith make a solid duo and both make the most of it. That said, the film itself is disappointingly uneven and, while it remains likeable and charming all the way through, the laughs kinda just fizzle out.

Flawed but entertaining.

04/02/2016

SPLASH - REVIEW


Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah star in this 80's comedy re-imagining of the Little Mermaid fairy-tale which did what Disney is currently trying to do with its live-action adaptations of every animated film they've ever done but without any big special effects.

And all before Disney's The Little Mermaid was even released.

Really, on paper Splash should have been awful but in the safe hands of director Ron Howard and with a first class cast which also included John Candy and Eugene Levy, it was a big hit and was even nominated for an Academy Award back in 1984. By handling the movie like a grown-up (and literal) fish-out-of-water story with some romance and jokes thrown in, Howard manages to make Splash more of a modern fairy-tale adults can enjoy rather than corny, kids-only fare. The very good, very funny script keeps a perfect balance between comedy and fantasy and the cast is simply flawless from Hanks' lonely romantic to Daryl Hannah's wide-eyed, innocent mermaid.

Splash is one of those 80's comedies that just works and even though it's essentially a rom-com and Hanks has been known to star in some pretty cheesy rom-coms, it doesn't feel like that at all since you really do feel for those characters and genuinely don't want anything horrible to happen to them. In a way, the film mirrors E.T. in terms of what happens to the "alien" character as Madison's (Hannah) identity is kept hidden before it is eventually revealed to the world in heartbreakingly dramatic fashion which leads to big bad scientists taking over and screwing things up for everybody. There's a child-like wonder and naivety to this character which makes her a fragile entity that could break at any moment so seeing Levy's antagonist constantly attempt to ruin her life is both pretty entertaining since he keeps failing in increasingly amusing ways but also stressful.

All this to say: I definitely recommend checking out Splash. Miraculously it still holds up and it's one of those rare rom-coms that's charming enough to get into everyone's good books.

Underrated gem.

02/02/2016

FORCE MAJEURE EPISODE VI: NUB NUB - PODCAST


Force Majeure is a new, unofficial Star Wars podcast in which each film in the franchise is given its own sort-of-in-depth review.

In this second episode, guest co-host Alex Weiss and I discuss Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi.

@TheRetroCritic
@Chronoslinger
#ForceMajeure

01/02/2016

DUEL - REVIEW


Based on Richard Matheson's short story, Duel is a 1971 TV movie about a guy being taunted by a big truck on the road for no apparent reason. It stars Dennis Weaver and is directed by then newcomer Steven Spielberg who made the film on a 500K budget.

Duel is often quoted as being the best TV movie out there and, although on paper it doesn't sound like much, it's easy to see why once you do check it out. It's not so much the story which makes Duel as memorable as it is but the suspense and the cinematography, Spielberg using every Hitchcockian trick in the book to not only keep the film entertaining but make the vehicular antagonist into a convincing threat. The movie opens with everyman David Mann (Weaver) driving across the Californian desert for a business trip in his red Plymouth Valiant casually listening to a radio show where Dick Whittington can be heard conducting silly interviews. Eventually, a rusty tanker truck pulls up in front of him, blocking his way, so he decides to finally overtake him. Little did he know that this would turn out to be the biggest mistake he ever made.

From then on, the film turns into an increasingly intense cat-and-mouse game as the mysterious, faceless trucker taunts poor old David Mann to the point where he's basically trying to flat-out kill him. Mann is shown to us as being a bit of a wet blanket early on and he comes across as pretty dorky, cowardly even. He's constantly looking at his watch, wanting to make good time, he gets paranoid very quickly and we get the feeling he's only on this trip to avoid talking to his wife. Little by little, he starts to "Mann" up and fight back against his inexplicable enemy. It's a battle between Man and Machine but also between predator and prey and Man against himself. Duel is almost like a lost, feature-length Twilight Zone episode as the identity of the trucker remains hidden from us throughout giving the film a weird, surreal quality.

Weaver is excellent throughout and you're always on his side, even when he's acting foolish or a tad gutless but this is Spielberg's show. You can definitely see the birth of his trademark style here: the inventive shots he uses preparing us for the likes of Jaws or Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Duel is a relentless, perfectly executed mini-adventure best seen in its original TV movie form as the ad breaks actually enhance the cliffhangers but even if you're checking out the Theatrical Cut, it's certainly something of a must-see for anyone looking to get into filmmaking as it's a bare-bones story told expertly and with visual flair.

A lower-key cult gem from Mr Spielberg.

31/01/2016

BEOWULF (1999) - REVIEW


Long before Robert Zemeckis motion-captured the heck out of Beowulf, Christopher Lambert starred in this low budget sci-fi version of the story and the good news is that it was, indeed, about as good as it sounds.

And by that I mean both terrible and extremely amusing.

The 1999 film sets itself up as some kind of epic but it quickly runs out of budget after a mere one minor battle and 90% of the action then takes place inside a poorly-lit castle where, we're told, Beowulf must battle the beast Grendel and his vengeful mother. Unfortunately, the creature only seems to show up at night and the movie doesn't seem to have anything planned for the daytime scenes so expect a ridiculous amount of dull conversations about nothing and people inexplicably eating in current-day foil take-out boxes. Also, since the film finds itself visibly desperate for anything watchable about 20 minutes in it soon resorts to gratuitous cleavage and sex scenes, cheap comic-relief and slasher movie-style fake suspense, all to the sound of an ungodly techno-jazz-rock soundtrack which'll make you want to throw your TV speakers out the window.

Beowulf is one of those delicious bad movies that's clearly misguided on every level and wouldn't be at all watchable if it wasn't so darn amusing. Poor old Christopher Lambert looks like he's basically killing time until the film ends, clearly tired of delivering some truly awful lines throughout. Same goes for love interest Rhona Mitra who is stuck wearing a skimpy outfit and spurning out unnecessary exposition. To say the costumes and props are not very good would be a massive understatement: some helmets have no eye holes, others look like cardboard RoboCop heads and there's no rhyme or reason to the weapons the characters use. The special effects are equally bad, especially when it comes to the monsters which look like unfinished CGI mud, and I think the stuntmen believed they were acting in a gymnastics picture because Beowulf executes a somersault every other shot.

Beowulf may be a turkey of Dungeons & Dragons proportions with more than its share of dull moments but, as a whole, it proves itself to be one underrated bad movie. There's nothing redeeming about it except that it's tons of fun to poke fun at so if that's what you're looking for then you're in for a treat. Otherwise, you might want to stick with some other Beowulf adaptation.

Any other will do.

30/01/2016

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST - REVIEW


A couple of years ago, man of a thousand voices Seth MacFarlane brought his brand of humour to Western comedy A Million Ways To Die In West, a feature he directs, co-writes and stars in (not as a bear, this time).

The film didn't exactly wow critics and it basically flew by, somehow making a profit on the way despite less-than-flattering reviews.

The film itself goes for an old-fashioned look but a defiantly anachronistic and modern take on the subgenre with characters speaking like people would today and the odd pop culture reference. It's not a completely new idea and it's something that works much better in a cartoon than it does in a live-action film but it can definitely work. Mel Brooks always could make that kind of thing funny. Unfortunately, here, it's like the film is trying much too hard to make that a hilarious aspect of the movie when it's, in fact, one of its weakest ideas. The concept that people in the Old West could die of pretty much anything, anytime is a much funnier one but the filmmakers don't really follow that through. Instead, the plot quickly settles into a predictable rom-com storyline in which sheep farmer Albert (Seth MacFarlane) falls for Anna (Charlize Theron), the wife of an outlaw.

The film admittedly has its amusing moments including an entertainingly menacing Liam Neeson, some likeable slapstick, a scene in which Neil Patrick Harris is forced to take a s*** in a hat in public, some fun cameos, Sarah Silverman is terrific as Giovanni Ribisi's prostitute girlfriend, the goofy, surreal hallucinogenic sequence... There was definitely potential here to make a great Western comedy. It's a shame, then, that the film brings nothing new story or character-wise to the genre and that its modern take makes it fall quite flat as a whole. You don't buy MacFarlane as a guy living in the Old West or even as a sheep farmer in this movie for one second as it looks like he literally just put on cowboy clothes and walked on set without changing his normal appearance whatsoever then invited a bunch of celebrity pals to act wacky around him.

There's really not much more to say about A Million Ways to Die In The West: this is a comedy with some good ideas but a lot of bad ones and altogether not enough creativity or laughs to make it completely worthwhile. While it's not an unpleasant watch, it is surprisingly forgettable and will leave you feeling pretty "meh" about the whole thing.

Blazing Saddles this ain't.

29/01/2016

FLASHBACK - REVIEW


Released back in 1990, Flashback was a buddy comedy about a hippie New Left radical on the run for years being transferred for a trial by an uptight FBI agent.

Huey Walker, the hippie in question, is played by a perfect Dennis Hopper who has a ball throughout teasing Kiefer Sutherland's agent John Buckner, evading the law, referencing the 60's (even Easy Rider) and saying "man" a lot. It's refreshing to see Hopper in a lighter role not playing a bad guy as he so often used to. He and Sutherland play polar opposites which makes for an amusing contrast but the film does a good job at showing that they have more in common than they realise. At first, those two characters inevitably clash, especially when Walker gets Buckner drunk and makes him believe he's been slipped some acid before switching places with him and getting him thrown in jail. Very quickly, they realise that they are both in danger of getting disposed of by Cliff De Young's dodgy Sheriff Hightower so they are forced to join forces.

While the film is, indeed, a comedy and has its share of funny moments including the mismatched duo spending a bad night in the woods and Walker getting captured by fans of the 60's thinking he's an FBI agent, it's also definitely going for a heartfelt look back at an era full of conflict and rebellion but also a sense of fun and togetherness. By getting Walker and Buckner to spend some time in each other's shoes, they come to some bittersweet realisations which are a critique of the 80's but a celebration of youth and what it can achieve as well. Admittedly, the more earnest, serious moments in this movie go on for a bit too long which makes Flashback at tad uneven. You almost wish they had cut the film down 10-15 minutes just to pace it a little better.

Still, it's worth checking out this forgotten little trip down memory lane as both leads are very good and entertaining throughout plus the film itself is pretty darn charming.

You're either on the bus or off the bus.

25/01/2016

THE RIDICULOUS 6 - REVIEW


Adam Sandler stars in, produces and writes this Western comedy which was released straight to Netflix last year and, though it did really well on the online platform, it was somehow given worse reviews than Sandler's other 2015 effort Pixels.

The Ridiculous 6 goes for a kind of Happy Madison version of Blazing Saddles crossed with The Magnificent Seven as Sandler's orphan-turned-Native American-turned-cowboy goes on a journey to raise enough money to save his kidnapped estranged father (Nick Nolte) and, on the way, meets 5 of his half-brothers who all agree to help out. Each of them has their own ludicrous story and their own reasons to find their father, which gives the film a weird Wizard Of Oz vibe. Speaking of weird, you can expect quite a few surprises from this movie including Rob Schneider playing a Mexican dude, Vanilla Ice as Mark Twain, a character called Never Wears Bra, Taylor Lautner going all-out as a mentally challenged yokel and Steve Buscemi doing ungodly things with ointment.

The cast also includes Terry Crews, Jorge Garcia, Luke Wilson, Will Forte, Steve Zahn, Danny Trejo, Harvey Keitel and extended cameos from Jon Lovitz and David Spade. Oh, there's also a completely useless and not very funny John Turturro scene in there somewhere but let's just act like that didn't happen. Overall, though, this is a pretty big cast and that alone makes The Ridiculous 6 entertaining. Yes, the film has its share of flaws, that goes without saying: white people playing Native Americans, Rob Schneider, the fact it's much, much too long, the stupidly predictable twist, Adam Sandler's auto-pilot performance, a good bunch of jokes that fall flat and the misguided idea that a singalong is at all necessary.

Besides, why even try to outdo the classic singalong from The Three Amigos?

It's just not gonna happen.

Having said all that, I do think critics were unfairly harsh on this one. I mean, I get that Adam Sandler's schtick is wearing thin but The Ridiculous 6 is in no way worse than Pixels or his worst film or even the worst comedy of last year, a year which gave us both Vacation and Get Hard. Visually, the film looks good and you can tell some dough was definitely sunk into it, plus there's a genuine effort there to do what A Million Ways To Die In The West failed to do and bring back the Western comedy subgenre. The film itself is dumb and patchy jokes-wise, for sure, but it's an amusing, silly romp which does have its moments. Harvey Keitel's villain gets an inventive death scene and the whole cast seems to be having fun. Had the film been half-an-hour shorter and all the pointless crap had been edited out of it, I think it would have been much better received.

While I can't exactly recommend The Ridiculous 6 and justify you go run to Netflix to check it out, I can say, however, that if you do it most definitely won't be the worst time you ever spend watching a movie, despite the vastly negative feedback Sandler's latest got.

Watchable ridiculous fare.

DUPLEX - REVIEW


Danny DeVito directs this 2003 dark comedy which stars Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore as a newly married couple who move into a duplex in New York only to find that they have a tenant who might just drive them insane.

The tenant in question is Mrs. Connelly (a brilliant Eileen Essell), an ageing Irish lady who seems harmless enough early on but who, little by little, successfully gets on Alex and Nancy's (Stiller and Barrymore) nerves. The former is a writer who is trying to focus on completing his book but he soon struggles when Mrs. Connelly starts getting him to do various mindless chores every day. Eventually, the couple even start considering murdering the old lady who may or may not be deliberately trying to ruin their lives.

The film is a bit like a cross between Home Alone, The Money Pit and Throw Momma From The Train as two people who are clearly not cut out to be criminals find themselves reluctantly thinking dark thoughts while suffering through slapstick mishaps in a crumbling house. The humour throughout Duplex is pretty uneven: one second it's like a more low-key Meet The Parents, the next it's kinda vulgar and gross-out. One scene that stands out, for example, sees Nancy get splattered with sewage which prompts her to then throw up on her husband's face.

Enough to put you off your dinner.

Then the bulk of the jokes are tamer like Nancy getting electrocuted and her hair standing on end or Alex being forced to eat out-of-date Bugle chips (seen The 'Burbs, much?). While this all may sound a bit uninteresting, the film is lucky enough to be fairly amusing throughout: a lot of the jokes surprisingly work, Ben Stiller is on his usual ebullient form while Eileen Essell steals the show as the movie's unlikely antagonist. It's a shame, then, that the film starts and ends in such a rushed, lazy way as it attempts to throw some kind of last minute twist at us but it falls completely flat.

Duplex (also known as Our House) may not be anyone involved's best but it makes for entertaining, though silly, viewing. It's funny enough to sit through but not quite funny enough to be essential or all that memorable.

Fair enough.

23/01/2016

ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO - REVIEW


Director Robert Rodriguez concluded his El Mariachi trilogy back in 2003 with yet another ultra-violent, over-the-top actioner following Antonio Banderas' seemingly immortal mariachi-turned mythical Mexican hero.

Once Upon A Time In Mexico also starred the likes of Johnny Depp, Mickey Rourke, Willem Dafoe, Eva Mendes and regulars Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo. The plot involved a planned coup whereby Dafoe's drug lord and some villainous General would take over from the President. In the middle of this whole thing is Depp's unconventional CIA agent who hires El Mariachi to do his thing, something he agrees to seeing as he has his own score to settle since his beloved Carolina (Salma Hayek) was killed. What follows is a lot of lovely guitar tunes playing over action-packed carnage: people get shot and fly 8 metres into the air, that kind of thing.

Clearly the film doesn't take itself too seriously, which actually adds to the fun of it. CIA guy Sands (Depp) is constantly making speeches, eating at restaurants, sometimes with a third arm, Mickey Rourke is always hiding his little dog from Willem Dafoe, Enrique Iglesias has an extended cameo, there's an action sequence that goes on forever where Hayek and Banderas are falling down a building in style, it's pretty entertaining. Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite match Desperado in terms of style and pace. The story is much too convoluted for us to care and, a little like with Machete, you wish there weren't this many characters and political struggles to worry about.

Whenever the action kicks in or Johnny Depp pops up, though, things get good again but overall this is a lot of fun but sort of empty. Rodriguez probably should have kept things simple and not worried too much about trying to put together an intricate story. If you like the director's brand of cartoonish Mexploitation, however, I do recommend you check out Once Upon A Time In Mexico as it's still a refreshing alternative to the usual blockbuster.

Enjoyable romp.

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