Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016)

The final chapter? Why do I somehow doubt that. Also, ‘Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter’, not really a good sign is it. Yet you could say this present day horror franchise is the modern equivalent of the trashy slasher franchise of the 80’s, just glossier looking. I mean lets be serious here, who in their right mind thought we’d be at movie number six with this franchise. Anyway this movie starts off by giving us a complete backstory flashback right from square one. This is presumably because many folk will have forgotten everything that has come before in this fast food throwaway franchise. I’m not really surprised, there has been so many characters dying, surviving, disappearing and coming back its easy to get confused.

So what’s the new angle this time? There is no angle, its back to Raccoon City! ugh!! Yep all the way back to the hive where it all began, but why? (other than cash grabbing on nostalgia porn). Because there is in fact an antivirus to the T-virus which has been developed by Umbrella. But why would Umbrella develop an antivirus? Well because they intend to keep all the rich and important people frozen in cryogenic pods underground in the hive. Then once the T-virus has wiped out mankind (Umbrella released it on purpose), they will wake up, release the antivirus to kill off the T-virus and then start Earth over as they want. Was this the game plan all along? I dunno because I can’t remember and there’s no way in hell I’m rewatching the last five movies.

This beginning does also mean that we don’t get to see the rather epic looking mega battle that was hinted at in the finale of the last movie. You know, where the last remnants of the human race were all holed up and barricaded in the White House with a humongous army of undead creatures and mutants trying to break in. Yeah that looked awesome…but we don’t see it, just the aftermath where everyone has been killed and Wesker apparently betrayed everyone…again!

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So Alice must reach the hive and retrieve the antivirus within a set time limit. Why the time limit? well according to the Red Queen the remaining human outposts will fall when this time limit expires. Not really sure how the computer would know this, how could it tell when every last human is dead? Anyway one of the earlier things we learn is not everyone from the previous movies is actually dead. There are still numerous clones running around which all equals lots of convenient and contrived twists and reveals. And as to be expected, the movie raises many many questions concerning the plot and possible errors.

So on her way to Raccoon City Alice inevitably comes across numerous obstacles or traps, obviously these are Umbrella orchestrated. There appears to be a small band of survivors in Raccoon City and Umbrella are determined to kill them off. They aim to do this by moving towards the city in tanks very slowly (led by the thought to be dead Dr. Isaacs, same actor), leading a vast undead army behind them, no clue why. Eventually Alice winds up with the survivors, gains their trust (mainly due to the reemergence of Claire Redfield, same actress) and decide to make a stand against the incoming hordes. Low and behold Alice and co win, destroying both tanks in the process. Yet in the next scene we see Alice and co using one tank (was there more than two? only saw two).

Stage two, off to the hive with her new band of gun totting badasses (some white blokes with beards and muscles, a few sexy women, one token black guy, the usual), which is briefly interrupted by zombie dogs. Cue a sequence where most of the team somehow manage to outrun said zombie dogs accept for the obligatory odd member who gets mauled. Once inside the hive they discover it to be a giant funhouse of deadly traps being controlled by Wesker (whose face looks oddly plastic and CGI). Here most of the team get killed off at various stages by various traps. Its all highly obvious but actually highly entertaining. In fact the whole deadly funhouse angle is actually a neat way to go, shame it doesn’t last very long.

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In the meantime there are more Umbrella tanks with armies of the undead moving slowly towards Raccoon City, not really sure why though. One tank picks up Isaacs (he survived the first attack with his other tanks), he informs one soldier to head for the hive. Said foot soldier says he can’t he has other orders…but from who?? Is there someone else we don’t know about higher than Isaacs? Its at this point that Isaacs kills the foot soldier. These movies amuse me, in a world where the human race is on the brink of extinction, people still go around killing each other en mass. And apparently Isaacs can afford to kill his own Umbrella foot soldiers, surely they must be running out?

Stage three, Alice reaches hive central so to speak and confronts Wesker who has thawed out some of the rich important people. Said people turn out to be the real Isaacs (UGH!!!) and an old lady in a wheelchair. So I don’t wanna spoil anythi…ah fuck it, the old lady is actually the real original Alice. Yes the Alice we’ve all been following through all these shitty movies was in fact a clone all along…oh…my…God! We then get a whole load of spiel from Isaacs who explains his entire dastardly plan and how much he hates both Alice’s. The real Isaacs also has the antivirus which he goads clone Alice over. Thing is, if Isaacs hates old lady Alice so much, why doesn’t he just kill her? If he doesn’t want clone Alice getting the antivirus, why not lock it up in a hi-tech safe?

Stage four, the finale. Its incredible but somehow, some bloody how, that flippin’ laser beam corridor is back. You know, the one that cuts people up…well except Alice. Yes the finale sees clone Alice and the real Isaacs having a good brawl which leads them into the laser beam corridor. Alice again manages to dodge the beams, for some reason the beams don’t form the deadly diamond mesh formation which allows Alice to evade them. Alice then sticks a grenade in Isaacs pocket which doesn’t blow him up? and doesn’t kill Alice also? I guess it wasn’t a grenade? whatever.

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Stage five, the final part of the finale (oh please!). Well what do you thinks gonna happen here?? Clone Alice manages to kill everyone of course, Wesker (wasn’t he a monster at one point or something?), the real Isaacs and even all the cryogenically frozen people (geez!). The antivirus is released into the atmosphere and literally wipes out all the zombies within seconds, doesn’t even need time to spread through the air apparently. We could of at least seen some cool decomposing or melting or breakdown of the zombies as the antivirus destroys the T-virus, nope they just drop like flies. Luckily it will take years for the antivirus to spread across the globe so that leaves plenty of time for yet more undead monster killing adventures from Alice, hurrah!

OK credit where credits due, this franchise started way back in 2002 for Pete’s sake, its now 2017 and its still (apparently) going strong. Despite the fact I literally cannot understand how this is happening, I have to admit that’s impressive, come on admit it, it is. Considering almost every one of these movies is virtually the same shit but in different locations, I have to give congrats even though it pains me to do so. Yet despite all the questions, flaws and stupidity this movie is actually one of the better ones in the franchise. Its not completely ridiculously overblown nonsense as you might expect, its actually a little bit toned down, much darker, a smidgen more serious and you don’t get as many mutants, monsters or zombies. Its still a total videogame-esque rampage of blood ‘n’ gore that feels like its played out in stages with boss fights, of course (obviously nothing like the actual videogame). Its simply not as daft and thusly that little bit more engaging in a good way.

6.5/10

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A Monster Calls (2016)

So here we have yet another adaptation of a children’s book that you could be mistaken for thinking was a light-hearted fantasy romp…but it sooo isn’t. Certainly the movies poster looks very fairytale-esque and the plot sounds very quaint and whimsical, but prepare for a shock. Not a horrible shock, just a slightly glum, depressing and slow burning shock.

This tale focuses on the young lad, Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall), growing up in the north of England (I’m guessing in Lancashire?) with his strict grandmother, estranged father and terminally ill mother. Obviously there is a lot of emotion in this young boys life with his father now living in the US with another woman and his mother slowly dying. On top of all that his future looks glum as he will soon be living with his grandmother whom he does not get on with, oh and he gets bullied at school (Jesus!).

Well one night, around 12.07 am, an old gnarly tree at the back of his house starts to transform into a huge living entity, a tree-like monster. The monster approaches and confronts a very afraid Conor telling him that at the same time, over a period of time, he will tell him three true stories from the past. Once these stories have been told Conor must then tell the creature a true story of his own. Now of course its not hard to realise that these three stories will in fact reflect the boys life in parts, they will be windows into his emotions. Of course the real question the movie makes you ask is whether or not this tree monster is in fact a real creature or merely the boys wild imagination.

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The first story is of an old King who marries a young beautiful woman suspected of being a witch. The King soon dies and his people suspect the Queen of killing him in order to gain power. The Queen actually rules well but plots to marry off the Kings only Prince so she can retain power. The Prince runs away with a farm girl until such time that he can return and be crowned King. One morning the Prince awakens to find the young farm girl murdered, naturally the Prince assumes the Queen killed her so he rallies the people against her. Just before the mob can reach the Queen the tree creature whisks her away to safety. The Queen did not kill the King or the farm girl, nor was she a specifically bad witch. Twas the Prince who killed the farm girl in order to try and overthrow the young Queen and gain power.

This story relates to Conor’s grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) in the sense that while she is strict and kinda unlikable, she has never actually done anything wrong in regards to Conor. She has actually looked after him very well and Conor is failing to understand her situation under the current circumstances. Much like the Queen who didn’t actually do anything wrong, people believed she was evil and thought she would commit evil, but she did not.

The second story revolves around an old apothecary who believed in traditional medicines and potions, herbs and brews etc…In order to make up more medicines the apothecary pesters the local parson to cut down a Yew tree within the church yard. The parson refuses this request point blank and becomes fed up with the apothecary. The parson does not agree with the apothecaries traditional ways and slowly manages to turn his congregation against the old medicine man. Some time later the Parsons two children becomes very ill and nothing can help, so he turns to the apothecary. Of course the apothecary asks why he should help him after he took away all his custom and refused the Yew tree for which to make cures. The parson agrees to cut down the tree and bring his congregation back, the apothecary declines and the parson’s children die. The tree creature appears and destroys the parson’s house as punishment. The reason being the the apothecary stuck to his beliefs and could have saved lives, the parson changed his beliefs to suit himself, convenience.

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This story may relate to Conor’s estranged father in regards to him choosing an easy path, much like the pastor. Conor’s father has basically left his mother and is enjoying life in America whilst they carry on the daily grind in the UK. He obviously comes back when Conor’s mother is ill but it doesn’t seem genuine, more of a reluctant duty, changing his position to suit himself. But he obviously cares enough to come back, he cares enough for his son, so I’m unsure on this one. I was also surprised that Conor didn’t really receive any punishment for destroying his grandmothers living room (which he does in a trance like state when the creature describes destroying the parson’s house). I was also surprised that this event didn’t result in Conor getting some psychological assistance.

The third story was about an invisible man who grew tired of people not seeing him. So the man summoned the tree creature to make him visible. The tree creature helps the man but he soon discovers there are harder things in life than people not seeing or noticing you. Whilst this story is being told the tree creature possesses Conor and beats up the school bully. Again I’m not so sure about this one, could it be the creature is the invisible man in the story? The creature realises that being invisible isn’t as hard as it thought, only after it beats the bully too much? Does it represent Conor feeling unnoticed during his life? Is it me or did there seem to be a homosexual vibe between the bully and Conor?

The final story that Conor must tell involves him confronting his own nightmare…or face being eaten by the tree creature. Conor’s mother is standing near a cliff when it starts to collapse in on itself. His mother falls but Conor reaches her in time, grabbing her by the hand. Conor must hang on to his mother to prevent her from falling to her death. After a short time Conor is seemingly unable to hold on anymore and his mother falls. The tree creature puts a lot of pressure on Conor to speak the truth regarding the incident and eventually Conor admits he let his mother go on purpose. Why? because he could not stand the pain of having to hold on. He can no longer stand the suffering of watching his mother slowly die in reality, he wants the emotional pain to finally end. Conor does not want his mother to die, but he understands it will happen, he must come to accept it and ultimately he wants/needs the whole ordeal to end.

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All of the story sequences appear to have been animated in watercolours to me. While all of the film is live action with the tree creature being CGI, these sequences do stand out beautifully with this fresh approach. They certainly give the film some much needed colour and excitement because truth be told there is little else going on. That’s not to say the film is poor, its a slow moving drama set in the bleak countryside of Lancashire so the animated sequences are vital. Truth be told the stories are kinda odd and don’t really make much sense in relation to the main protagonist. They are suppose to represent the stages of Conor’s early life and emotional state but I didn’t see the connection at times. The second story I especially didn’t really agree with. Sure I understand that the parson didn’t stick by his beliefs and in the end it was his own fault that the apothecary didn’t have any possible cures at the right time. But Jesus man, talk about being harsh on this guy even after his kids die!

At times the film is visually alluring, as said the story sequences, and of course whenever the tree creature pops up. You have this blend of gritty reality in England mixed with moments that could have come from a twisted fairytale flick of Tim Burton. Essentially this is a character driven feature and its all about the performances. Well our main protagonist Lewis MacDougall certainly acts the shit outta this. While I did find his scowling somewhat annoying and his character did come across as a bit of an unhinged brat, this young actor is most certainly one to watch for the future. I couldn’t quite relate to him mainly because I didn’t really like the character of Conor but that doesn’t detract from his acting talent.

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On the flip side you have the voice talent of Liam Neeson as the tree creature. Sterling decision it has to be said because Neeson’s voice, when lowered, has that perfect tone to make you slowly drift off to sleep. His voice fits the creature perfectly giving the character some real depth and gravitas. Which was needed because even though the creature appears to be faithful to the book, it looks a bit [i]Lord of the Rings[/i]-esque really doesn’t it, hard not to think it. The design is definitely nice, just a bit late in the game really, also it did look weird having this yuge twisted gnarly tree all by its lonesome behind this house. It looked like the old tree from ‘Sleepy Hollow’. Not sure why they decided to cast Sigourney Weaver as a British grandmother, strange.

Certainly the themes here are very strong, very emotional at times and frankly way beyond most kids comprehension methinks. I haven’t read the book so I can’t compare the material. Personally I can’t see any kids really enjoying or understanding this and its, dare I say, bleak sobering lessons of reality. But hey what do I know about kids these days. But I won’t lie, the film is a bit of a slog at times, there is a whole heap of family drama in here that moves slowly. If you’re not overly familiar with the British lifestyle then you may feel even more in the dark at times because this is definitely British. All in all, saying this is a coming of age story is an understatement. This film could leave youngsters emotional wrecks as it exposes the bare bones of early childhood experiences. High drama and at times high fantasy, which kinda goes nowhere really. Overall it will leave you with mixed emotions and probably some questions, but the ending will see you reaching for a hanky.

6/10

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Doctor Strange (2016)

he folds matter outside the mirror dimension, in the real world
I’m sorry what?

Welcome to the cinematic kaleidoscope that is the world of Marvels Doctor Strange. A world of sanctums and sorcerers that protect the Earth from other dimensional beings and powers, or something like that. Doctor Stephen Strange is world-renowned neurosurgeon who, in a rather contrived manner, loses the use of his skilled hands in a car accident (how did he survive that crash??!!). He doesn’t lose a leg or suffer brain damage or whatever, oh no, he just fucks up his hands. Anyway Strange is unable to fix his hands through traditional methods, so eventually he goes off to Nepal in search of a mysterious place called Kamar-Taj. There he discovers the Ancient One who starts Strange off on his quest to learn the secret powers of sorcery.

The challenge? Strange, the Ancient One and fellow sorcerer Mordo must stop another rogue sorcerer called Kaecilius. What is Kaecilius’s goal? he wants to summon Dormammu from the dark dimension in order to gain eternal life. At the same time Dormammu wants the Earth dimension for himself.

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Much like his comicbook counterpart, Strange is an arrogant asshole in this movie. The man clearly has skills but he thinks he’s God-like, he treats people like garbage, he ignores advice, he’s reckless and lacks tact. So it is in fact very hard to like our main protagonist because he’s such a blowhard. Strange is also very very rich due to his profession which makes it hard to relate to Strange (much like Stark), his arrogance only makes matters worse. The sequence where he chooses a watch from a draw of rotating highly expensive looking timepieces, then leaves his highly expensive city pad in his highly expensive Lamborghini, is this really any different from reality for Cumberbatch? Just another day for a Hollywood movie star.

The fact that Strange is an asshole doesn’t really go away either. He continues his snarky comments (along with lame pop culture gags) for much of the run time which only left a bad taste in my mouth truth be told. Yes I know this is the character and it would be wrong to change it, but it just felt shitty to me, I just didn’t like the guy. The other fact that Cumberbatch was cast made it worse for me, did he do a good job in the role? I guess, nothing special, I wasn’t blown away lets just say that. I had reservations when he was cast and I still don’t really agree with it, personally I would have gone with Ewan McGregor after Joaquin Phoenix turned it down. I don’t think Cumberbatch looks the part, he’s too skinny, his hair is wrong and his face has the wrong structure, he isn’t good or suave looking enough. Was it too hard to get his famous white hair streaks right?

So lets look at the Ancient One played by Tilda Swinton, was this good casting? Again I’m somewhat split on this, should they have race swapped the character? No I think they should have gone by the source material, so no gender swap either. It would have upset China you say, tough! Stand by your work, show a little backbone. As for Swinton I really didn’t see anything uniquely special in her performance, in fact I think it was weak, anyone could have taken the role and done a better job. Mordo, again, why the race swap? People complained about the Ancient One yet didn’t mention this? Equality? hypocrisy? political agendas? You moan about one, you moan about the other, or don’t moan. Anyway both looked completely out of place in this movie, especially in the Nepal locations. The white bald Ancient One looked like an extra from ‘The Matrix’. Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius? totally forgettable much like his faceless henchmen. So yeah overall I wasn’t wowed by any casting in this movie, very bland, usual box ticked diversity, generally all very safe and boring.

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So did the movie offer anything that differs from what we have seen before in the Marvel cinematic universe? Well yes, of course it did, this movie is based on the magical side of the Marvel comicbook universe. You want lots of mind-bending visuals that cast doubt on what your actually looking at? Say no more, its all here. I mentioned at the start the word kaleidoscope, well that’s pretty much the key word here, its literally the word of the day, the word of the movie because there is no other way in describing what you see. There are numerous sequences of astral planes, other dimensions, mirror dimensions and reality being twisted and contorted. Of course its all CGI but its bursting with colour, shapes and dream-like imagery that certainly keeps you engaged…if your eyes can stand it. The broken/shattered/cracked-esque glass visual effect for the mirror dimension was particularly impressive, very striking, very imaginative.

On the other hand we of course have lots of kung fu and hocus pocus nonsense. The hocus pocus nonsense is obviously to be expected and it generally looks pretty good. I did like all the colourful magical shields. weapons and visual spells that the protagonists use. They all look like colour coded HUD’s from a jet fighter (or inside Tony Stark’s Iron Man helmet) that are projected around a persons limbs. The obligatory martial arts jiggery-pokery I felt was..um…obligatory. Its like you can’t have a comicbook flick (or any flick) without needless martial arts. When Strange takes on his astral form in the astral plane, yep you guessed it, he ends up getting involved in an astral plane martial arts fight (with Scott Adkins). In general I liked the fighting because it involved lots of magical trickery but they still can’t get away from martial bloody arts, so tiresome.

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I find myself in the middle ground with this Marvel entry, in limbo if you will. Whilst I did enjoy the effects to a degree, I found myself straining to look at some of it, or it just seemed to go a bit too far with the bizarre, although the colour palette was nice. What we see of the dark dimension was nicely done, it kinda looked like what you might see under a microscope, but in vivid colours. The magic and sorcery was definitely intriguing and I found myself wanting to see more ancient mystical things instead of the more present day set events. A period set Doctor Strange flick could be pretty sweet methinks. Period though, not alien fantasy because period would offer some grounded limitations. But it says a lot when one of the best parts of the movie involved a simple cloak, the cloak of levitation. I really wanted to see more of that and its backstory. On the flip side I found the characters weak and casting all wrong, not even Strange himself was overly engaging (Tony Stark with magic). The appearance of Dormammu in the finale was also a big let down as yet again we get a big purple-ish looking face…and that’s it, CGI wasn’t much either.

The main issue I have with all these movies now is they don’t really feel like stand alone movies. They merely feel like filler movies, padding, basically set-ups for another even bigger movie that usually involves a team up or an entire cinematic universe. The stories don’t really have any meaning or risk involved, they feel minor and throwaway because at the end of the day all they’re doing is setting up something else. The real killer is then when you get the next bigger movie, that too is just another set-up for something else, and on we go. The plot for ‘Doctor Strange’ was mediocre, it barely did the job. I was relatively engaged merely down to the fact that we were seeing something a bit new in sorcery, but beyond that it was bland business as usual. So overall I would give this a pass in the same vein as ‘Ant-Man’, but the initial intrigue is now gone, any sequels (for me) will just feel meh (although a period setting could be cool).

6/10

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Rogue One (2016)

It is indeed a strange turn of events when the spin-off movie with the shallow premise (which I admittedly, fully expected to be a poor cash grab), turns out to be a solid movie. Where as the official Star Wars saga sequel with way more solid plot behind it, turns out to be the poor nostalgia cash grab. So what worked and what didn’t and how does this single movie rank in the entire galactic Star Wars universe?

So lets start with the basic premise here, the plot and idea for this movie. Straight off the bat this entire idea is totally ridiculous lets be honest. The whole notion of showing us how the rebels managed to get ahold of the plans for the Death Star is pointless. This is the kind of thing that a TV series (just like the animated ones) is perfect for, covering the small sections in between the major saga movies which don’t need entire movies. I mean come on, we all know what happens here and that’s a problem because we know most (if not all) of the characters will probably have to die, tension gone. We know the rebels get the plans and we know that it probably involves lots of skirmishes on land, in the air, at sea and in space.

At any point in this movie was I concerned about the characters or their mission? No, no I wasn’t for very simple reasons such as continuity. Sure some characters could of survived for another movie, but the more that happens the more possibilities for a convoluted classic trilogy. I mean, where would they have disappeared to for so long and why? Obviously its easy to say a certain character just went off to the far end of the (uncharted) galaxy and lived on a remote undiscovered planet for whatever reasons. But that would make no sense, why would a central rebel character disappear during the most climatic time of the war with the empire? they wouldn’t. In turn this (in my opinion) did hurt the movie simply because I wasn’t really that engaged as I knew what was probably gonna happen.

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Essentially this means that all we’re here for is nostalgia porn, winks and nods to what we all know and love. Shove some stuff from the classic trilogy in there with all new shiny CGI plosions and everyone’s happy? Well yes and no because bottom line you can’t really escape that in a Star Wars movie. While I fully admit this is nostalgia porn until the next saga installment turns up, heck…at least its good looking nostalgia porn that’s well made.

Its also worth mentioning quickly that the main plot is actually (and amusingly) about a rebel group of rebels. The entire mission they set out on is actually against rebel HQ orders, they in fact go rogue. And here’s me thinking they use that title because it sounded and looked cool, plus another word meaning ‘to rebel’. Nope they are indeed rebel rebels.

Lets look at the characters in this Dirty Dozen-esque type movie that doesn’t have a dozen main hero characters. Well as expected you have a ragtag bunch of desperadoes that all seem to have a special kill. One bloke has a bigass gun with ammo pack on his back. One guy is a roguish, Han Solo-esque looking sharp shooter. Another guy is a wise, blind, staff wielding martial arts expert type chap. One skinny dude is a mechanical equipment type expert. Our heroine is your standard all rounder but also seems to be good with a stick. There is a well spoken, Marvin the paranoid android, type robot complete with deadpan humour. And lastly we have the larger than life, half man, half prosthetic robot leader…who isn’t actually the leader but actually dies really early on. And yes, this time there is no Jedi hocus pocus.

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So you have the stereotypical team with dare I say…box ticked diversity, but are they any good? Well yes and no, reasons being they are a great looking team of space mercs but I never really cared about any of them because I didn’t know them well enough. There is no real backstory to any of these guys other than a bit of exposition here and there. Is that all you need? Well again yes and no, on one hand it would be nice to see some history so we can understand each character a little more, get some emotions going. On the other hand I fully accept that you can’t do that all the time (run time) and to a degree less is sometimes more. Maybe we don’t need to see every nook and cranny of a characters past…?

But look at some of the scenes we get, Cassian Andor (Diego Lunar) for example. This guy kills another man in cold blood once he gets what he needs, clearly this guy is a bit of an anti-hero. He comes across as an untrustworthy, double dealing scoundrel in this sequence, yet this arc goes nowhere, we never see any of this again. The double team of Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) is never really explained despite their partnership clearly being of some importance. Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) is an imperial pilot who has defected but we never find out why or what he even piloted, I guess he just didn’t like being a baddie.

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K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) is an imperial robot who has been reprogrammed by Cassian but we don’t really know what he did for the empire and why Cassian even reprogrammed him. And finally our heroine Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is quite simply our bland by the books heroine. Her mother was killed by the empire (totally her own fault I might add) and her dad created the Death Star so cue lots of anguish over all that yadda yadda yadda.

So lets turn to other things, sound, visuals and questions. Right so the movie looks fantastic, this truly looks like a Star Wars movie there is no doubt about that. In fact I was blown away at how well they recreated that late 70’s look and feel with the sets, lighting, costumes etc…The rebel base on Yavin 4 was superb and looked spot on in size and layout, not quite as grubby but hey. They even include the rebel soldier in that crows nest which always looked impossible to climb (how the fuck did he get up there? I don’t see a ladder). All other locations, sets, costumes, cockpit interiors, space battles etc…were gorgeous as you might expect (and better than TFA). The only really stand out bit of shit would be the very odd mind reading octopus that was just as bad as the large CGI alien tentacle things in TFA. Couldn’t they have just used some bit of kit for that? Why did we need such a terribly designed creature??

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The full CGI Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) is of course a talking point, should they have done it? Hmmm…not so sure myself, even though his estate gave permission it still seems a bit off to me. The other question being could they have done this with a little more stealth and shadow? Perhaps hide Tarkin’s face away a bit more to make it more subtle and not so in your face? Tricky but I think it could have worked as we saw with his intro in a reflection. Both Tarkin and Princess Leia were bold moves that sorta worked but ultimately were too obvious and alas will definitely age badly over time.

Are there problems here other than the vanilla characters? You bet there are. The stormtroopers are still useless in every way, here they are beaten by a blind guy with a stick who doesn’t even use the force. Stormtrooper dolls for kids?? eh??? Deathtroopers…utterly pointless and do nothing, in fact they aren’t much better than regular stormtroopers. Deus ex machina anyone? oh hell yes! Various things happen right in the nick of time such as Jyn being saved by Cassian, who we all thought was dead. Cassian decides not to follow his secret orders to assassinate Jyn’s father because…why exactly?

Jyn’s father then manages to die in her arms for maximum effect, as they all do in these films. Malbus literally commits suicide for no reason whatsoever, just ups and decides to go out pointlessly, for nothing. Could a Star Destroyer actually slice through another Star Destroyer? Certainly looks to do so with ease in this movie, surely that wouldn’t happen. Also, why didn’t the rebels just join in the attack with Jyn and co initially? They end up joining in anyway so it made no real sense that they decided not to go in the first place. Had they not showed up, that would of made more sense, standing by their decision.

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Lastly, when the Death Star makes its final destructive shot on the base on Scarif, I noticed the shot actually misses the base and hits quite some distance away in the sea. I did notice the blast takes out the main radar tower on the base which was the target but…why not just hit the base directly? This made no sense to me, we know a direct blast from the Death Star can wipe out a city instantly, as seen earlier with Jedha. So why didn’t they just make a direct hit on the Scarif base instead of miles away? Unless of course they were just aiming for the radar tower and didn’t mean to wipe out the base entirely? But surely they’d know the shock wave would still destroy it. This just came across to me as a way to give two of the heroes an emotional final scene, but it made no sense.

One thing I didn’t really like about this movie was the inclusion of certain new things. The deathtroopers, why? why were these guys required? They pretty much do nothing other than look a bit sexier than regular troopers. The Scarif shoretroopers, seriously? What the hell would you need shoretroopers for? What do they do that is any different from other troopers? When the battle kicks off on Scarif the regular stormtroopers, deathtroopers and officers were doing perfectly fine, why would you need yet another unit of troops for a shoreline?

Then you have the new TIE ships, again I find myself asking why? Why do we need new models of TIE fighters? In all cases you just end up asking…what happened to all these new things in the classic trilogy? Sure you could say they were new models/old units that didn’t work but that makes no sense. Deathtroopers are supposedly some the best so where did they go? They just scrapped those other TIE ships just like that? Remember this movie is set right before episode IV, would these ships be taken away so quickly that they are never seen again?

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Of course we know this is merely for merchandise sales, a new Star Wars movie must include new things for new toys. Hence we have a range of pointless new troopers and ships that all vanish from existence in the classic trilogy, ugh! I mean at least the AT-ACT’s we see can be explained as different models that were used for different jobs (mainly cargo), hence we don’t see them again. But there is no real reason for not seeing deathtroopers or the other TIE ships ever again.

Anyway, I can’t deny this was an entertaining movie and a good Star Wars movie (way WAY better than TFA). It still has many faults and is not perfect by any means. The lack of the classic musical score was a hideous omission if you ask me. What they used was so fecking lame and ineffectual it could be seen as sacrilege, the action sequences would have really leapt out off the screen with some John Williams behind them. The characters are weak despite good performances in general. The plot is pretty stupid and really didn’t need to be told. The movie essentially plays out like ‘Return of the Jedi’, and the opening was terribly weak without the classic logo, crawl and score. In the end the movie is limited by its own purpose essentially, it can’t really go beyond the confines of what came before. Luckily this can be just about overlooked as its definitely a fun ride.

7.5/10

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Terror from the Year 5000 (1958)

Yep we got another crappy poster contender right here, oh boy this a bad one. Its totally misleading, shows things you never actually see and it makes no real sense. Are we watching a movie about a flying witch of some kind? From the future or perhaps? Is this a children’s movie? The title is also way more exciting than the actual film itself, a common issue.

Now I’m gonna be straight up with everyone here, it took me some time before I really knew what the feck was going on here. Honesty, I was lost and bored amidst quite a bit of slow paced dialog and…errr…more slow paced dialog in various locations. OK…I actually had to go back and rewatch half of the movie to get the gist of it, yes it was that dull and uninteresting.

Nuclear physicist Prof. Howard Erling (Frederic Downs) and his assistant Victor (John Stratton) manage to construct a machine that can break the time barrier. The machine looks like a steel tub with a port hole window. Now if you thought the duo might start jumping through time you’d be sorely mistaken, alas! No in fact they manage to receive a small object from the future. Obvious questions such as who sent the object and why don’t come into this, just go with the flow here. Said object turns out to be highly radioactive too which causes more intrigue, but still no real action on their part. Anyway after a whole load of character driven bollocks that literally goes nowhere, we eventually find out that the professor has been trading objects with persons unknown in the future.

Eventually it also turns out that Victor has been secretly conducting experiments himself, on a higher power level, which has resulted in mutated creatures appearing in the tub. One such recent experiment has resulted in a human-like creature coming through also, of course that creature is now on the loose. This creature turns out to be a woman from the year 5200 (ta-da! and yes that is correct, not the year 5000 after all), but not just any woman, she is a mutant. Yes it turns out that the future of mankind is doomed to a nuclear holocaust filled with mutants that seemingly still have pretty good technology. Her mission is to bring Victor back to the future so he can help them…somehow. Will she succeed or will she…umm…not? Tension!

Right so as I’ve already mentioned, the main crux of this story focuses on this time machine thingy which transport objects. This is the what you assume will be the fun macguffin which will transport our hapless duo through time. But you know now it doesn’t, in fact it does very little for the entire movie. The problem with this movie is nothing really happens for the whole damn run time, until right at the end. But even then what we get is pitiful even for 1958. Heck we don’t even see any future Earth, not even a matte painting or model or anything, you might as well be watching a cheap stage play. The idea is fine, nothing original mind you but fine, but they just don’t explore it. I understand there were probably many obvious limitations but if you can’t do your movie justice then don’t do it.

There is so much padding in this movie its painful, painful pointless padding that goes nowhere and is draaab! The plot takes forever to get going and its all exposition dialog. Scene after scene of the professor and Victor working, discussing things, then working some more. Eventually an archaeologist is brought in to verify the items of the future. To make things more exciting there’s a completely needless car chase sequence for this character intro. This guy seems to start falling for the professors daughter (of course) who is actually the fiancee of Victor. This naturally causes a typical 1950’s love triangle type scenario that doesn’t actually go anywhere, but instead leads to us finding out about Victor’s skulduggery with the secret experiments. Victor is also upset because he thinks the archaeologist will discredit their hard work so…cue the obligatory fight sequence. Oh and there’s also some voyeurism by the local handyman too because why not?

The mutated woman of the future is bitterly disappointing. A simple bit of tacky putty makeup and false teeth, and a very bizarre catsuit of some kind covered in sparkles (mirrors?). This character literally looks like something that jigged to the boogie on Soul Train. Although, strangely enough at first the character is actually quite eerie and intimidating. The first time she is shown we only see her arm reaching from within the time machine, at least I assume that was her. Then when she actually comes through to the present, we get quite a scary fast moving silhouette dashing towards the camera accompanied by a terrifying scream. Twas pretty spooky truth be told. Not entirely sure if this woman had some kind of super powers or not but she seemed pretty strong, nifty face cloning/removal technology too. Actually that one idea and scene was quite impressive considering, definitely ahead of its time there and I would imagine very scary for a 1950’s audience. Although it has to be said, this mutated female of the future also has a damn good glittery nail polish hypnotising technique, don’t leave home without your nails all done up.

Amazingly there isn’t much stock footage in this movie, yes there is a bit at the beginning (can’t escape it fully) along with some narration, but its generally stock free. Apart from everything I’ve mentioned there isn’t really a lot to discuss, the movie is on the whole pretty bad. The movie title is wrong apparently, the plot is boring and just never gets going, there are no real special effects bar one tiny optical effect, and its features yet another apocalyptic future with mutants scenario. I was desperate for someone to go through the time machine and into the future, desperate! But alas!

1.5/10

Journey to the Beginning of Time (aka Cesta do pravěku, CZ, 1955)

Although this may sound like your typical Doug McClure type romp, is it in fact something a little more original. Directed by the famous Czech animator Karel Zeman, the film is actually more of a documentary first and an adventure second. The plot surrounds a group of four young boys in a boat who journey down a river and into a mysterious cave. When they emerge from within the cave they find themselves back in time in a primeval landscape. As they slowly travel down the river they soon realise they are in fact travelling back through the Earth’s various time periods, back through time, to the beginning of time itself.

Interestingly, the movie I am reviewing here is in fact the American version from 1966. This US version has a different title, has obviously been dubbed and has new footage added. The footage was shot in 66, New York, and gives a different opening (and ending) for the four boys (obviously a different cast of boys). Here they go to the American Natural History Museum and, apparently, all fall asleep together (or imagine together?) and have the same dream, the dream being their boat trip through time. That being said, the film also seems to hint at the possibility of a Native American statue possibly hypnotising or casting a spell on them, it isn’t too clear.

Anyway the Czech film was originally called ‘Cesta do Pravêku’ and you do see the majority of that film with the US version, its just the beginning and end that are cut. I have titled my review with the US version/part English translation simply because that is probably how its best remembered. The 1966 US footage of the boys for the beginning and end of the film is generally fine. The two sequences blend in relatively well, although I’d like to see the original film footage too.

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This film was quite unusual for the time due to its documentary angle. Aimed squarely at children the film is more of an educational feature rather than an all out adventure. Yes there are sequences of exploration and danger for the four boys, but essentially each time period, with its own unique inhabitants, is discussed or narrated by the boys to relay information to you, the viewer. Most of the time the boys are drifting along in their longboat, a safe distance from the various mammals and dinosaurs they witness. At times they do get into minor trouble, they do come ashore and they do explore further interacting with some creatures and plant life. There are no dinosaur battles, guns, human fatalities, blonde dames or atomic bombs in this feature.

Apart from the unique educational aspect of the film, it was Zeman’s fantastic stop-motion animation that was the real crowd-pleaser. Turns out that Zeman was a master of stop-motion, the European equivalent of Ray Harryhausen. His combination of stop-motion clay models and 2D hand drawn profile images was pretty ingenious and new at the time, I think. Where many Hollywood movies would use stop-motion models for their monsters or beasties, usually against other models or a matte painting, Zeman actually combined the two. So what you would see is a static hand drawn profile image of a dinosaur, but with a stop-motion head and neck (all against a small model set and rear projection live action shot of the actors). It sounds very basic and cheap but believe me it looks great and you’d never notice it, you’d swear you were looking at a full model. Zeman would also combine static paintings of creatures and their landscapes with just one lone fully animated model.

Not just content with that, Zeman and his crew also created numerous full sized puppets for some dinosaur sequences. Generally this would simply be a full sized head or body for some close up shots. There are two sequences of a dinosaur head and mammoth body breaking the water which are basic puppets. Zeman and co also created full sized prehistoric plant life, one prehistoric lizard thing that looked like a Muppet, and one full sized dead stegosaurus which looked really fantastic. The four boys inspect this dead dinosaur, the scale of the body along with the paint detail is really impressive. Not only that but it did get me thinking, did a certain Steven Spielberg see this film and copy this scene?

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So it turns out that Zeman was a master of animation and visual trickery, but he also drew inspiration from others. For the most part Zeman got his visual inspiration from famous Czech paleoartist Zdenêk Burian. Burian was/is well known for his incredible artwork surrounding all manner of prehistoric life and ecosystems. Pretty much all of the 2D matte painting and dinosaur profile work was based off Burian’s imagery. Its clear to see if you compare Burian’s artwork with the films prehistoric landscapes, much of the films imagery looks like animated artwork.

Concerning the plot, well naturally I did find myself asking why on earth these boys didn’t ever turn back, I mean surely you’d maybe have a look around and then go back through the cave right, for safety reasons. But no, off they go, cruising down the river into the unknown and eventually camping out! Not too sure where they got the wood from for that campfire either, seeing as they were in an ice age. Now I think of it, how did they not freeze to death?? (they’re wearing shorts). OK, so its all completely ridiculous how these boys don’t actually end up getting eaten, bitten, stung or mauled to death by some prehistoric monster, poisonous insect or early plant life. I guess we should look past that, but hey after all, these are 50’s kids, a lot tougher than kids today, more world savvy too, probably.

I was genuinely taken aback by this film and its visuals. Granted the film quality wasn’t too good and if you saw this on bluray I would imagine all the tricks and faults would be easily exposed. But the sheer scope along with obvious care and attention to detail is astonishing. The four boys do a sterling job with their acting considering they are mostly acting against nothing and this is a 1955 film (acting not always too good). The story is as basic as it gets but again it doesn’t matter because firstly, its supposed to be educational, and secondly, its all so wonderfully charming and gorgeous to look at. Any stop-motion fan needs to see this its as simple as that. Some of the animals and creatures we see are admittedly a bit jerky, a bit rough around the edges (on close up), but most are superbly created and animated (a galloping herd of giraffes for one).

This film is unique in many ways, its an eye-opener and a very pleasant surprise. If you’re expecting rampaging dinosaurs fighting other giant insectoid-like monsters with screaming damsels, I hear you and I understand your cravings. But no, this is not the film you’re looking for. This is virtually like one of those films you would watch inside a museum or theme park. You are presented with mammals and dinosaurs actually normally in their proper environments, as observed by the four boys. It offers some simple thrills but its mainly for teaching or introducing the young to the fascinating world of palaeontology (with the information known in the mid 50’s).

9/10

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The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)

Again we have an…ahem…amazing movie title with a pretty sweet poster. It looks more like a children’s adventure book cover, one of those ‘choose your own ending’ type books (remember those?). It also has a nice noir-esque/comicbook vibe about it, overall an attractive and imaginative design.

So you could be mistaken for thinking this plot might be a tad similar to the classic 1933 film ‘The Invisible Man’. Well you’re not too far off but naturally this plot is somewhat different for copyright reasons obviously. Basically a former US army general (Krenner played by James Griffith) wants to take over the world with an army of invisible soldiers. He already has a machine that can make objects invisible (with the help of a stereotypical eastern European scientist type bloke, Dr. Ulof played by Ivan Triesault), but he needs further materials (nuclear) to perfect it. Said materials are rare and the only ones he knows of are under lock and key deep within government facilities. So his plan is to break out a brilliant safecracker (Joey Faust played by Douglas Kennedy) from jail, so he can steal the materials required whilst being invisible.

Of course there’s a bit more to this story. The invisibility doesn’t hold out for long periods, its a bit shaky, hence the rare nuclear materials needed to perfect the machine. Also Faust doesn’t really want to do the job for Krenner but Krenner blackmails him with threats of turning him over to the cops (even though he broke Faust out). There’s also Krenner’s dame (Marguerite Chapman) who Faust tries to charm into double crossing Krenner, and the fact that Krenner has Dr. Ulof’s daughter locked up to keep him in line (although that specific plot device goes nowhere).

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So we are talking about an invisible man here, what are the special effects like? Well they’re sparse that’s for sure, this ain’t no special effects bonanza. Much of the film surrounds the various characters planning stuff, we get very little invisibility action. What we do get are some floating items on wires that represent Faust carrying them, and a very brief sequence where Faust becomes visible and invisible again during a bank raid. This optical effect is corny as hell for sure but actually quite effective and decent looking considering this is such a schlocky feature. Although it does raise the simple problem that while Faust is invisible, the item he is carrying is not. So surely people would see this floating item and suspect something…as it floated out the door.

We also see the moments when Faust is turned invisible whilst under the machine (invisibility ray), and the practice runs with a guinea pig which are again nicely done. The little sequence shows the guinea pig slowly losing full visibility one layer at a time, skin, then bone structure, then nothing…invisible. We also see some marvellous acting against nothing, such as fights with an invisible foe, the odd chat with a blank space and doors opening themselves.

I think the main problem with this movie is the lack of action and the lame plot. For a start Krenner wants to conquer the world with an invisible army, but why? and how will he achieve this exactly? Faust could quite easily kill Krenner when he becomes invisible, he does threaten Krenner but for some reason doesn’t kill him. Dr. Ulof seems pointless as he’s only there to work the machine and dish out scientific exposition. Again Faust could of killed Krenner and used Ulof to assist him with his invisibility issues. Ulof would be happy to help seeing as he hates Krenner for kidnapping his daughter, I’m not really sure why everyone doesn’t just bump Krenner off. Krenner’s dame Laura also comes across as useless because she does nothing really, I’m not even sure what her character motivation was. She wants money and power clearly, hence she hangs around with Krenner, but she helps Faust go against Krenner so…how does that help her??

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Krenner also has a bodyguard (or hired muscle) in the form of a cowboy fella called Red. Apparently Krenner has told Red that his son is imprisoned in Europe and only he can get him out. No idea what his son is supposed to have done, how Krenner knows his son or how Krenner could get him out, I presume another breakout. So Red obeys Krenner like a good little bitch. Of course Krenner is lying and when Red discovers this he does nothing, absolutely nothing, the character merely exits the movie and is never heard from again. No clue why this character was in the movie.

Both Griffith and Kennedy really go for it in this movie that’s for sure. Kennedy does actually put in a decent performance as the bad tempered criminal who’s only looking out for himself. Griffith is suitably slimy as Krenner, in fact he has a face you just wanna slap. Kennedy was actually quite a big strapping chap in this movie where as Griffith is very slender, so its still odd that Faust never beats this guy to death because he probably could. I’m also pretty sure Griffith (in character) accidentally slaps Chapman across the face at one point in a moment of brutal 1960’s misogyny.

This is an odd movie in general. The plot is really patchy and never really goes anywhere with conviction. Most of the characters don’t really seem to have a goal. Krenner seems to own this lovely huge house and just wants to take over the world because of reasons. Whilst Faust is just a grumpy bloke who seems ungrateful that Krenner bust him outta jail and doesn’t know what to do with his life. The fact that the movie still manages to end with an atomic explosion is also hilarious frankly, its like every movie in this era had to include an atomic explosion (with no consequences) no matter what. To be honest its not totally unlikable, there is a charm to this pulpy nonsense, its just comes across as rushed and not well thought out. But with dialog like…’you know what one of these bullets will do? Rip out your spine and roll it up like a ball of string‘, how can you not like to some degree?

4.5/10